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Activists clash over Virginia firearms bill

Survivors of Virginia Tech shootings face gun-rights advocates over legislation on background checks.

January 22, 2008|From the Associated Press

RICHMOND, VA. — Survivors and families of the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings faced off Monday against gun-rights advocates over a bill that would prevent criminals and the mentally ill from buying firearms at gun shows.

About 100 supporters of the measure lay on the Capitol lawn to honor the victims of gun violence, as about 200 opponents stood nearby, holding signs that read, "Here Lie Disarmed Victims."

At one point, Jeff Knox, director of operations of the Manassas, Va.-based Firearms Coalition, approached survivor Colin Goddard and said students could have stopped Seung-hui Cho's rampage if they had been allowed to carry guns on campus.

"I would have stopped him," Knox said. "Because when I went to school, I carried a gun. It was legal; I did it."

Goddard, a Virginia Tech senior who was shot four times in the April 16 massacre, was taken aback, then said: "I feel sorry for you -- the fact that you feel you need to protect yourself in every situation.

"You're afraid of crazy situations happening. I've lived through this and I know that I can't continue in my life afraid of things," he said, adding that he put his "full trust" in the police to protect society.

Earlier Monday at a state Senate committee hearing on the bill, supporters, many wearing ribbons in Virginia Tech's colors of maroon and orange, outnumbered by about 3 to 1 their opponents sporting buttons reading "Guns Save Lives."

The legislation would require unlicensed sellers at gun shows to run criminal background checks on buyers. Such checks now are required only of federally licensed gun dealers.

Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech before committing suicide, passed a background check and bought one gun from a store and a second online despite having been deemed mentally ill by a Virginia court.

Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine has since signed an executive order requiring that anyone ordered by a court to get mental-health treatment be added to a state police database of people barred from buying guns.

Gun-rights advocates said the bill would burden law-abiding citizens and gun show promoters. They also noted that Cho did not buy his weapon at a gun show, but bill supporters said that didn't matter.

The idea, they said, is to reduce the possibility of similar tragedies in the future.

"You can no longer say you have not been forewarned," said Joseph Samaha, whose daughter, Reema, was among those killed. "By voting 'no' you are doomed to relive history."

A committee is to vote on the measure Wednesday, the panel chairman said.

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