Va. Tech massacre’s $48 million tab makes the case for gun control

Petula Dvorak
Columnist April 12, 2012

So let’s say the human tragedy part of a shooting death isn’t enough to change your mind about gun control.

Maybe it’s not the angle you want to take when talking about Trayvon Martin, who may have been racially profiled but would still be alive today if George Zimmerman weren’t a wannabe cop packing heat.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Or perhaps it’s just bad luck that Amari Markel-Purrel Perkins, a Prince George’s County first-grader, is dead because a fool living in his home stashed a gun in a Spider-Man backpack.

Sure, let’s forget all that sad stuff. How about instead we talk about the Benjamins, baby. What do guns in the wrong hands cost us?

Take a look at the massacre at Virginia Tech that occurred five years ago. Put aside the loss of 32 lives, the devastation of 32 families, the permanent, emotional scarring of those who survived but were mentally or physically marred by the day one man unleashed all the demons in his head upon a university using a Walther P22 and a Glock 19.

What does allowing a mentally ill young man to legally buy two guns and an arsenal of magazines cost the rest of us in dollar terms?

About $48.2 million. That’s according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal D.C. think tank that analyzed Seung Hui Cho’s April 16, 2007, attack by sifting through the legal bills, university staffing costs, police costs, hospital bills and even autopsy receipts that kept piling up long after the candlelight vigils ended.

That $48.2 million tab for the two-hour spree was picked up by local, state and federal taxpayers, the public university system, parents and students. That’s a huge chunk of a state budget, and any other event that cost this much would get unblinking scrutiny.

“We have such a high demand in society for efficiency and careful use of tax dollars” that it made sense to look at such a tragedy through a fiscal lens, said Donna Cooper, a senior fellow with the economic policy team at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the cost study.

And yet, even after seeing the human tragedy and economic travesty that an assailant with guns can cause, crazy stuff is happening all around us to grant access to even more guns.

As if to spite the Virginia Tech community, the victims and their families on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the massacre, Virginia opened the door and basically hung a “Welcome Back!” sign for gun runners.

The state repealed its almost 20-year-old, common-sense law that limited people to purchasing just one gun every 30 days.

That law clearly didn’t stop Cho, who researched gun laws well and waited 32 days between his two gun purchases, but it does open the door for Virginia to become Guns R Us once again. Before the 30-day law was passed in 1993, Virginia was notorious for being the Northeast’s major gun supplier. In New York City in 1991, 40 percent of the weapons found at crime scenes were traced back to the Old Dominion.

Come on, show me a society where guns mean less violence. Even Wyatt Earp figured that one out when he banned guns from his territory.

So why the sudden decision by the legislature to repeal this law and by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to sign the repeal? Did we hear a massive public outcry? Acknowledge the widespread pain and suffering of those who were unable to pursue life, liberty or happiness because they couldn’t buy more than 12 guns a year?

My guess is that gun lobbyists fearing tighter regulations after a spike in murderous rampages began flying their flags, displaying their eagles and scaring the crud out of people.

Since the first modern-day spree killing — at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro in 1984, where 40 people were shot and more than half of them died — there were 15 spree killings over 23 years, according to the Center for American Progress report.

Now get this: In the five years since Virginia Tech, there have been 12.

I’m not seeing how making it easier to get a gun helps things, especially in Virginia.

The Founding Fathers were thinking of defending our land against the Redcoats, or maybe our wagons against grizzlies, when they wrote the Second Amendment. Suburban kids hopped up on years of Grand Theft Auto; 33-bullet magazines and semi-automatic killing machines; or a vigilante hell-bent on protecting a cul-de-sac from Skittles simply weren’t in the mix.

So we need to work within that amendment to fit the world we live in today.

Most folks advocate common-sense proposals that can help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

The Center for American Progress advocates full background checks on all gun transactions, including online and at gun shows. The group calls for clear standards and stronger compliance for reporting mental health issues to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — which would have shown the gun dealer that Cho had recently been hospitalized for mental issues and should not have been eligible to buy his arsenal.

And they suggest outlawing high-capacity bullet magazines, which serve absolutely no purpose for any law-abiding gun owner.

If the struggle of former Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords to recover from an attack by a crazed gunman, or the tears of Virginia Tech families and the daily loss of life to gun violence in America don’t move you, just think cash.

A decade ago, doctors wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that gun violence was a public health crisis costing Americans more than $100 billion a year.

That’s something we simply cannot afford.

Follow me on Twitter @petulad.

SECTION: {section=local, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=3, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=3, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=local, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=3, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=3, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments