The terrible tragedy in Blacksburg forced many in public service to ask what we might have done differently to help avoid what happened. Clearly, I do not have the answers, but certainly the role of gun law enforcement and the adequacy of mental health services must be addressed.
At the same time, the spectacle of news media crews, reporters and commentators swarming on the campus to get a “scoop” by badgering Virginia Tech students, administration and faculty seemed disrespectful and petty. It reminded me of wisdom from Robert Frost’s poem Choose Something Like a Star:
“…So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.”
Nothing can take us back to where we were before the senseless brutality of April 16, 2007, but the prompt and heartfelt responses by President Bush and Governor Kaine sounded eloquent reminders of our duty to help the Hokie nation begin the healing process.
I am grateful that Virginia Tech President Charles Steger immediately asked the Governor Kaine to appoint an independent commission to review the actions taken by University and public officials.
Governor Kaine’s appointments were impressive, bi-partisan and instantly credible. I look forward to their analysis and recommendations.
State vs. Federal gun laws
One of the controversies arising from the Blacksburg killings has to do with whether state courts and law enforcement agencies can enforce Federal gun laws. It is my understanding that they cannot unless Federal authorities deputize state officials.
For several years, I have introduced measures to make Virginia’s gun laws conform to Federal laws. In 2000 I introduced a bill to make it unlawful for any person who has been convicted of stalking, sexual battery and/or assault and battery of a family or household member. The House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety killed it without a recorded vote.
None of my efforts since then has fared better: all rejected without recorded votes. This year I introduced bills to prohibit those convicted of domestic violence and those who had parental rights removed because of torture, abuse or sexual abuse of a child.
While these offences are crimes, they are not felonies. Even though Federal statutes prohibit people convicted of them from owning guns, they cannot be enforced in Virginia unless state law is changed—or state police are deputized to enforce Federal gun law.
In contrast, according to the executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence Education Fund, North Carolina law would have caused the Blacksburg assailant to be identified and the gun sale prohibited.