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-based Firearms Coalition, approached survivor Colin Goddard and said students could have stopped student 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 Senate committee hearing on the bill, supporters outnumbered opponents by about 3 to 1.
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 Tech before committing suicide, passed a background check and bought one gun from a store and a second online despite having been deemed mentally defective by a Virginia court.
Gov. Timothy M. 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 supporters said that doesn’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.”