From Blacksburg to Baghdad, April was indeed the cruelest month. After buying a Glock 19 and a Walther 22 in nearby Roanoke, Cho Seung-Hui went on a senseless rampage at Virginia Tech. Less than 48 hours later, 183 people died when car bombs exploded in a crowded Baghdad market. The Virginia Tech incident was horrific, but still an aberration; the Baghdad bombings were horrific yet terrifyingly quotidian. The scale of violence in both places is nonetheless completely unacceptable.
The website response of Roanoke Firearms, the gun shop that sold Seung-Hui his weapons, illustrates the current level of debate over gun control in the U.S. The store’s proprietors first thank all those good folks “who came to this site to send messages of encouragement”—for what, it is not exactly clear. The site then offers a few choice words for those “misguided” souls who took the time to send “hateful” emails. The gun merchants ask, “How many of you called the company who sold Timothy McVeigh the diesel fuel or fertilizer he used to make the bomb in Oklahoma City, or the company who rented him the Ryder truck? Should we outlaw diesel fuel and trucks?” Only someone dumber than a bag of hammers would buy this “argument.” Diesel fuel, fertilizer, and trucks obviously have many purposes. A Glock 19, a Walther 22 and all other handguns only have one function—and it ain’t hunting deer.
The car bombs going off in Baghdad show that tightly controlling the gun supply here or anywhere won’t necessarily put an end to violence (it would, however, dramatically reduce gun-related deaths). But the fact that the most heavily armed military in the history of the world has not been able to defeat the insurgency in Iraq also suggests that weaponry is not the best way to win a war. The Army has upgraded from M16 to M4 automatic weapons, no doubt a rather unwelcome sight in house-to-house searches. (In Iraq, as in America, nobody kicking down the front door holding a gun is ever welcomed as a “liberator.”) At some point soon, the culture of American violence must be challenged. Ending the war in Iraq is as good a place as any to start.
On a brighter note, we’d like to congratulate our contributing writer Sabine Heinlein, who won the 2006-2007 Sidney Gross Memorial Award for her story “Spring Creep,” which we published in the Dec. 06/Jan.07 issue of the Rail. Nice work, Sabine!