End gun madness, say victims
Survivors and relatives of victims of US shootings marked the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre by calling on Congress to put an end to the madness of gun violence.
The anniversary of the worst school shooting in US history, in which 32 students and staff died, comes at a moment of intense national debate over US gun laws, race relations and the right to self-defence.
“Today, 32 more will be murdered by guns in our nation. Yes, another Virginia Tech will happen today, like it happens every day,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said outside the US Capitol.
“And that’s why we’re here to say enough is enough, and to hold the people who do their work in that building behind us accountable to put an end to this madness.”
Virginia Tech was the scene of the worst school shooting in US history when Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech student born in South Korea, shot to death 32 fellow classmates and teachers before killing himself.
Gun-control advocates went to work after the massacre, as well as after last year’s shooting of US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in a bid to toughen gun laws.
But they were rebuffed by law-makers who say that now is not the time to talk about gun policy, according to Colin Goddard, who suffered four gunshot wounds at Virginia Tech and is now assistant director of legislative affairs for the Brady Campaign.
“We are here to say that now is the time for Congress to talk about gun violence in America,” he said.
The Brady Campaign called on US law-makers to reject Senate Bills that would expand the right to carry concealed weapons.
It said the 32 victims had an appointment on Monday with Senator David Vitter, a Republican sponsor of one of the Bills, but that his office cancelled the meeting.
Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia put the blame for firearms proliferation squarely on the powerful gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association.
“Americans need to ask: where is the outrage?” Mr Moran said, highlighting 12 more mass shootings since Virginia Tech that have claimed the lives of 92 people.
“It didn’t stop, it continues – and it will continue unless we have sensible, responsible legislation.”
The issue has surged to the fore with the shooting death of a 17-year-old African-American, Trayvon Martin, by neighbourhood watch guard George Zimmerman in Florida.
Prosecutors last week filed second-degree murder charges against Mr Zimmerman over the shooting in a gated community of Sanford, Florida.
Mr Gross said the NRA and law-makers who support the group “are putting the guns in the hands of people like George Zimmerman, a man with an arrest record and with a history of violence”.
Mr Moran noted that more than 100,000 people are shot with a firearm each year in the United States – people like Mindy Finkelstein, who aged 16 survived a 1999 shooting in Los Angeles by a convicted felon who illegally acquired a weapon at a gun show. She has pressed relentlessly for reforms but for 13 years has been brushed aside.
“But you can’t ignore us today,” she said. “Look me in the eye and say there was nothing that any of us could do to prevent a convicted felon and criminally insane man to walk into the Jewish community centre and gun down innocent children.”
Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, home to three of the Virginia Tech victims, said the anniversary should serve as a wake-up call.
“Despite special interests working against even the most common-sense reforms, we can defy the odds and take steps that make our country safer from the scourge of gun violence,” he said.