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The Iron Pipeline

How does it feel to be living in a state recently dubbed as a key element of “the nation’s Iron Pipeline”?

We’re not talking about a highway culvert. No, Virginia — particularly Northern Virginia — achieved this notoriety thanks to the torrent of guns that flows from here and into criminal hands along the East Coast.

Our area’s involvement in the gun trade was brought into focus after the horrifyingly murderous rampage of Seung Hui Cho at Virginia Tech. We discovered this severely mentally ill young man had been able to walk, unimpeded, into a Virginia gun shop and purchase one of his weapons of assault, despite having been ordered earlier into outpatient psychiatric treatment.

Just one day prior to this terrifying incident the chief of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action chillingly told members of NRA’s 136th Annual Convention that a mass tragedy on the scale of another Columbine would be “the Hail Mary of their [gun control advocates] playbook.” The answer to their prayers? How sickeningly cynical.

And the NRA Executive Vice President, speaking to the concluding session of the same convention, roared, “Today, there is not one firearm owner whose freedom is secure.”

These NRA rants reminded us that extremism isn’t limited to the Middle East. And certainly not to persons practicing Islam. Young Cho’s mother sought help for him from a Presbyterian minister. Timothy McVeigh, 1996 perpetrator of the nation’s worst terrorist slaughter prior to 2001, was raised Catholic, and had, in his youth, an “obsession for guns.” And Eric Robert Rudolph, the Christian anti-abortion, anti-gay fanatic, wired bombs that killed at the 1996 Olympics and at abortion clinics and gay bars.

Yet this nation continues to be led by policymakers who cringe at the electoral power of the NRA. And so the 35 gun shops in our part of the commonwealth, thanks to our nation’s weak gun laws, dish out thousands of handguns every year, a huge percentage of which end up in the commission of crimes, familial disputes and wonton killings.

According to the New York Daily News, guns from Virginia “at one point comprise[d] 47% of the guns our cops recovered.” Further, an attempt by the mayor of New York to set up illegal handgun stings in Virginia gun dealers’ businesses brought down the wrath of the Virginia General Assembly.

“As of July,” The New York Times editorialized this past Saturday, sting “investigators must be accompanied by state or federal police officers.” Yeah, right. You think the gun seller might suspect something when an officer of the law stands alongside a person trying to conduct an illegal purchase?

There’s something sick about all this. According to Canadian Coalition on Gun Control, 0.6 percent of homes in Japan have a firearm. That compares with 4.0 percent in England and Wales, 8.9 percent in Germany and 41 percent in the U.S.

When I covered the Illinois legislature, attempts to outlaw “Saturday Night Specials,” those cheap little guns that are used for weekend crimes, failed repeatedly. And Congress hasn’t even attempted a gun restriction in recent years.

No, they, and this chief executive, even embrace the gun lobby’s affection for assault rifles and the right of anyone to own one. You don’t use an AK-47 to pick off rabbits and deer; they’d be obliterated.

I guess the gun lobby thinks they can just wait for the tragedies, such as Virginia Tech, to fade from memory and their little corner of the world can go on, unabated.

Maybe one day this affinity for guns will diminish. But, given what we’ve seen lately, even in the wake of Virginia Tech, such laws don’t have a chance.


Nick Penning is an Arlington freelance writer. His column, “Penning Thoughts,” appears in alternating editions of The Arlington Connection.

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