Law didn't hamper suspect's gun buy

At least 1 gun was apparently purchased legally

Virginia law

Virginia Tech Shootings

April 18, 2007|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN REPORTER

Cho Seung-Hui, the 23-year-old student identified as the shooter in a deadly rampage at Virginia Tech University, apparently broke no laws in acquiring at least one of the weapons that left 33 people dead.

Under Virginia's gun laws, Cho was legally entitled to walk into Roanoke Firearms in Roanoke, Va., last month and walk out with a Glock 19 9 mm semiautomatic pistol the same day.

Though he has been described as a disturbed loner, his behavior aroused no suspicions on the part of the shop owner, who described Cho as a "nice, clean-cut college kid."

The commonwealth has no waiting period, and Cho's status as an immigrant from South Korea was not an issue because he held a federal "green card" as a permanent resident alien. It was not clear last night where he acquired another weapon, a .22-caliber handgun.

Had Cho applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon, there were no apparent barriers to his receiving one. In Virginia, law enforcement authorities must issue a permit to anyone who requests one if the applicant doesn't fit into a narrow range of disqualifying categories -- such as having a criminal record.

Had Cho acquired a permit -- it remained unclear yesterday whether he did -- he may very well have been in compliance with the law up until he fired his first shot Monday morning in Blacksburg. In Virginia, it is not illegal for a permit holder to bring a concealed weapon onto the campus of a public university, though it is against Virginia Tech's school rules.

Virginia remains a relatively conservative state where firearms laws are seen as weak by proponents of gun control. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gives the state a grade of C-, compared with A- in Maryland.

In Virginia, said a Brady campaign spokesman, Chad Ramsey, "they don't do enough to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them."

But while Maryland's gun laws are more restrictive, there is little reason to believe a similar transaction would not have gone through here. Maryland has a seven-day waiting period, but Cho apparently went on his shooting rampage 36 days after acquiring the Glock. There is little reason to think Maryland's more restrictive law on concealed firearms would have deterred an attacker who was bent on taking his own life.

Maryland law does restrict sales of assault weapons and limits the number of rounds a handgun can hold in its chamber to 20. But neither the Glock nor the Walther P-22 found at the scene of the attack qualifies as an assault weapon. The standard magazine of the compact Glock 19 -- the one the gun store owner said he sold to Cho -- holds 15 rounds. The Walther has a 10-round magazine.

B. K. Blankchtein, a self-defense trainer and former member of the Israeli army, said the killer picked good weapons for his murderous purpose.

Blankchtein, general manager of the Owings Mills training facility of Krav Maga Maryland, said the Glock and Walther models are relatively affordable and easy to conceal. He said the Glock is particularly simple to use and fast to reload. "Straight out of the box, it's probably the best firearm out there," he said.

Glock 9 mm pistols can be bought with 33-round magazines in some states -- including Virginia, but not Maryland -- but Blankchtein said the larger magazine might not have been needed. He said it takes just seconds for even a relative novice to eject one magazine and put in another.

The Walther, Blanktchein said, doesn't have as much penetrating power as the Glock because of its relatively low caliber. But he said the .22-caliber rounds are lethal in their own way. "Once they go in they will ricochet and create a lot of internal damage," he said.

Jim Purtillo, editor and published of the pro-gun rights newsletter Tripwire, said much of the blame for the high death toll should go to the administration of Virginia Tech for its policy prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons on campus. He said that if other students in the vicinity had been carrying guns they would have had a chance to stop the killer.

"A gun-free zone is a place where a thug can wreak havoc with impunity," he said.

But Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research, said there was no evidence that laws allowing widespread carrying of concealed weapons deter or reduce violent crime. He added that college campuses are particularly bad places to encourage people to carry guns.

"My experience on university campuses is that students don't always have the best comportment and self-control," Webster said.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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