After every tragic incident the debate over gun control predictably fires up again, although it doesn't seem as intense this time. Just as some people think we can eliminate evil and irresponsible behavior by banning some material things -- drugs -- some people seem to think we can eliminate crime and violence by banning or severely regulating or banning some other material things -- guns. Thus is magical thinking, not analysis or serious policy, in both cases.
This Zogby Poll is the first post-Blacksburg poll I'm aware of on the subject and it seems to reflect a certain amount of common sense. Some 59 percent of Americans say they don't think stricter gun laws would have prevented this massacre. To be sure, a majority also thinks more guns in more hands wouldn't have prevented the massacre either. This is actually fairly sensible as well.
John Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" thesis is true in a general sense, and there's simply no question that wherever concealed-carry laws or "must-issue" permit laws have been passed crime has not increased (as controllers always predict) and in most states it has declined, although not very dramatically. Even thouigh the Virginia Tech campus (unlike most of Virginia) was designated a "gun-free zone" -- one of those hapless feel-good policies colleges are susceptible to -- so the shooter could be pretty sure no other armed people would be around to challenge him, it's simply impossible to know whether having a more liberal approach to guns on that campus would have stopped this shooting spree.
Even if it were allowed, it's unlikely many students or professors would be packing as an everyday matter. And even if one of them were, it's not assured he or she would have the presence of mind or coolness to stop the shooter. It's different in a crisis situation than at the shooting range. Most cops, who are trained, aren't especially good shots, which is one reason they tend to empty their weapons when they decide to shoot. So believing that having less restrictive gun policies probably wouldn't have stopped this particular psychopath is hardly an unreasonable position to take.
Here's a remarkably sensible discussion of gun control from the Economist's blogger, Megan McArdle, writing on Andrew Sullivan's blog.
The encouraging thing about the Zogby poll is that solid majorities doubt gun control would do much good, and the position solidifies as people get older. That could change if the controllers crank up the propaganda machine, but the case is weak and the other side is better positioned than in years past.