Mon, Apr 23, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Made in the US: The pride that keeps gun law in place

The trouble is, despite everything that happened last Monday, nobody with the power to do anything substantial on gun control is interested in having a substantive debate about it

By Gary Younge  /  THE GUARDIAN , RICHMOND, VIRGINIA

The trouble is, despite everything that happened last Monday, nobody with the power to do anything substantial is interested in having a substantive debate about it.

The shootings returned guns to the center of national conversation but left them on the margins of political discussion. Before the 2000 election, the National Rifle Association (NRA) boasted that it was so close to US President George W. Bush that it would be working "out of his office." They have been pretty much true to their word. Before last November's election, Representative John Conyers, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, pledged he would not "support or forward to the House any legislation to ban handguns."

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine said on Wednesday that he held "nothing but loathing for those who take the tragedy and make it political."

And so the murders were rendered into a purely emotional event borne from a psychotic moment -- a subject more likely to be resolved by Oprah or Dr Phil than by the House and the Senate.

Like hot air, the week's coverage of the shootings expanded to fill the space available to it. The issue of gun control was occasionally raised but rarely seriously discussed. Instead, they kept asking: "How could this happen?"

The US' innocence is one of its few eternally renewable resources. Its ability to shock itself with the predictable is itself predictable.

"Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell," wrote Graham Greene in The Quiet American. "Wandering the world doing no harm."

There were few who couldn't see this coming even if no one knew where or when.

Amid the hours of reconstruction and speculation, press conferences and pen portraits, we heard from creative writing professors about the tell-tale signs of psychosis in student literature and from student counsellors about referral procedures. Some of it was interesting. But whatever route the interviews took they always ended up at the same destination -- if someone wanted to do this, there was nothing we could do to stop them.

By Thursday CNN was reduced to gleaning insight from the woman who drives the student shuttle bus and screening Cho's rambling rants. They beeped out the expletives as though the swearing was the most offensive thing about their content.

The videos made Cho the source of much revulsion but proved unworthy of moral panic. Some commentators tried to emphasize his South Korean birth as somehow relevant to the slaughter. But Cho was made in the US, every bit as much as his elder sister who had gone to Princeton. True he was an immigrant, who came to the country at the age of eight.

But his parents were "good" immigrants -- legal, solvent and self-employed. At home they had been poor. Now they'd put one child through an Ivy League college with money from their dry-cleaning business; their story owed more to Ellis Island than the Rio Grande.

Meanwhile, South Koreans kept a low profile and braced themselves for a backlash that has yet to materialize.

"People in my office look at me differently," wrote a member of the Korean United Methodist church of Greater Washington, to his pastor. "I cannot even approach my coworkers to talk. I feel so ashamed. I feel like I gotta do something to show I'm a good neighbor."

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