Thursday, April 19, 2007

Virginia Tech shootings revive national debate over gun laws

By Ken Kaye
South Florida
Sun-SentinelApril 19, 2007

It's just as easy to purchase guns in Florida as Virginia, as both are among the most lenient states when it comes to limiting the sale of firearms, gun control advocates said Wednesday in the wake of the murderous rampage at Virginia Tech.

Indeed, buying guns can be easier in Florida because it has no restriction on the number of weapons that can be bought at one time, making it a popular shopping location for gun traffickers, said Zach Ragbourn, spokesman for the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

Virginia, on the other hand, permits only one gun to be purchased within a 30-day period.

"Florida has laws on its books that we find very troubling," Ragbourn said. "They make it much more difficult for the state to have gun control."

His group gives Florida an F-plus on its gun-control report card, compared to a C-minus for Virginia.

Still, Virginia's laws are considered overly lax by some because it has no waiting period for gun sales, although it does require a background check that uses a nationwide database. Florida requires a three-day wait and background checks, and allows counties to extend that to five days, as Miami-Dade County has done.

Likely, none of those restrictions would have stopped Virginia Tech student Cho Seung-Hui from killing 32 people and then himself Monday, observers said. The reason: The gun purchases were made long before the shooting attacks began.

Cho bought a Glock 9 mm and a box of ammunition for $571 from a gun store in Roanoke, Va., five weeks ago, authorities said. He is thought to have purchased a Walther .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol in February. Both transactions appeared legal, officials said.

In any case, the worst on-campus bloodbath in American history has restarted the national debate on gun control, with some arguing that more people equipped with firearms on the Virginia Tech grounds might have cut short Cho's killing rampage."If there had been armed people on campus, when he walked into the first classroom, maybe four or five people would have shot him and it would be over," Nick Lipschultz, owner of P.A.R. Firearms & Supplies in West Palm Beach, said.

Lipschultz, who said he sells hundreds of guns each year to law-abiding people, said criminals will gain access to firearms no matter how many gun control laws are imposed.

"I've never seen a bad guy in my store," he said. "Criminals buy guns on the streets. They don't obey laws, so passing more laws is not the answer."Gun control advocates disagreed.

Jon Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore, said nationwide, there are almost 30,000 gun-related deaths per year, or about 80 per day. Florida has almost 2,000 gun-related deaths per year, or on average of more than five per day, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

"Yes, we should be talking about ways to prevent mass shootings like this," Vernick said. "But we also should be talking about ways to stop all other guns deaths every day."

Vernick said the real problem is with unregulated gun sales, generally made in private transactions or on the black market. In those cases, states have no way to conduct background checks.

"It's estimated that about 40 percent of all gun transactions in the United States are through private sales, so that's just a gaping loophole in gun sale laws," he said.

While some states' gun laws are loose, others are stringent, such as those in New Jersey and Maryland, he said. New Jersey requires an arduous background check to obtain a gun license, and Maryland has a seven-day waiting period.

Meanwhile, a Florida House committee quashed a bill Wednesday that would have forced businesses to allow employees to keep guns locked in their cars in company parking lots. The National Rifle Association backed the bill.

Although Rep. Baxter Troutman, R-Winter Haven, asked that a vote be postponed in light of Monday's tragedy, the House Environmental and Natural Resources Council defeated the bill 10-4.

"Part of your job is to vote on difficult issues and sometimes that's hard to avoid," said Rep. Stan Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, who voted against the legislation.

The bill has failed for two consecutive years in Florida.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. Ken Kaye can be reached at or 954-385-7911.

OnlineTake a look at how errors, weak laws keep concealed weapons in questionable hands around Florida in a special investigation at

No comments: