April 16th, 2008
01:32 PM ET

Virginia Tech and NIU shootings: One common denominator

By Kelli Arena
CNN Correspondent

The shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University had one thing in common - Eric Thompson. He is one of the biggest online gun dealers in the country. He sold a gun to one shooter and equipment to the other. [cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/CRIME/04/16/vt.one.year.later/art.vt.community.candles.gi.jpg caption="A year later, Virginia Tech students say they have learned about themselves and their community."]

You'd probably never know that, though, had Thompson himself not made those facts public. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is specifically prohibited by law from releasing that kind of information.

Thompson has been unusually public about a lot of things since those tragic shootings, in particular his remedy for dealing with gun violence.

"My answer to this problem is let people protect themselves," says Thompson.

That's right, more guns, or at least the threat of more guns. Thompson is pushing for more states to allow its citizens to conceal and carry, and he supports allowing students to carry guns on college and university campuses.

"At the NIU shooting there was three-minute response time. Unfortunately that was about thirty seconds or two minutes and thirty seconds too late. And the police did a fantastic job, but you can't stop it, if there is no way to stop it," Thompson argues.

Thompson has even set up an online forum to argue for his ideas: http://www.gundebate.com.

"I wish there were people from both sides that would come,” he says. “Currently it's more of the guns rights people on the website."

He says it's not about selling guns but rather, about "educating" people.

That's a sentiment that's hard for some to swallow. Elilta Habdu barely survived the Virginia Tech shootings. She still has a bullet lodged near the base of her brain.

"To use us our tragedy, our pain, and our suffering to push the gun debate, that's shameful. That's torturing us when you do that,” says Habdu. “You're insulting the memories of 32 people who died needlessly because someone brought a gun onto campus. You know, he's making a profit out of our suffering and God knows how many more guns he's selling to people and how many lives are being wrecked because of it."

Actually, Thompson says business is quite good and steadily getting better. He says he is sorry for victims like Habdu but has no regrets.

"I really didn't have time to think about it... all the laws were followed,” he says. “The important thing to focus on is how we can prevent this in the future."

It's hard to cast Thompson as a villain. His long wavy blonde hair and laid-back nature make him seem more surfer than gun dealer. And his gun shop looks more like an Internet start up. He is the father of young children and says he'd like them to know how to use a gun when it's appropriate.

He plans to keep pressing his case and to keep selling guns.

"I'm not going to back down,” says Thompson. “I'm not even interested really in a compromise."

Visit "Remembering Virginia Tech" for CNN.com's special anniversary coverage.

Filed under: Campus Rage • Kelli Arena
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. William of Iowa

    Cain and Abel. Human fratricide has plagued our being for millennia. We recoil from the horrors of those who choose to impose self-determination at the business end of the gun. Globally weapons are produced at a rate that could conceivably arm every man, woman and child several times over. The idea of gun control ideological nonsense. Behavioural modification only at the expense of personal freedoms. Protection will come when we police our public and private institutions from the inside out. Who is allowed: background checks. Who gets in: on site screening. Who stays: only those who are subjected to random checks and pass muster. Psycological interviews and assesments are very much a part of policing. More emphasis and capital will be necessary. Are we as a society willing and capable of such sacrifice. I think not, and until we are, more horrors await.

    April 17, 2008 at 11:14 am |
  2. Greg

    Despite such a great media coverage everywhere surprisingly nobody mentioned anymore the shooter Seung-Hui Cho. He is also the victim of this tragedy and system. He shouldn't be forgotten just because he pulled the trigger. How short focused we are.

    April 17, 2008 at 7:50 am |
  3. michael smith

    Guns and drunk college students...yeah, that's a good idea! When I was in college not too long ago, I can think of all the drunken and stupid things college kids do...Now you want to give them a gun when they do that. And let's not forget accidental deaths to themselves or others. How many more students would die from trying to prevent one potential tragedy?

    April 17, 2008 at 7:43 am |
  4. Michelle Buttacavoli

    I just wanted to tell the familys of the VT shootings that all of America feels the monumentil loss that you all are suffering. We will never forget all of the wonderful people who lost there lives needlesly. Our prayers are with you always.I know it isnt much, but it is all we have to give. All of you will be in my heart forever. God bless you all.

    April 17, 2008 at 4:36 am |
  5. Pete

    Are you guys really satisfied with the speculations over the past year as to what motivated the gunman to mass murder and commit a suicide immediately afterwards? You just assume that he was seriously "disturbed". Could someone, without fearing a rebuke or ridicule, try to convince me what the real motivation might have been?

    April 17, 2008 at 2:12 am |
  6. Hananiel

    To all people pulling the "gun in the depressed/psychotic person" argument, put yourself in the equation. YOU are unarmed in gun-free zone staring down the barrel of a depressed psycho because his mommy didn't kiss him good night. I don't know about you, but I would like to defend myself. All liberals generally talk in pedantic hypothesis considering the grand scheme of things and miss the basic point. They miss the point in gun control, abortion rights and nearly all the basic things of life – must be their elite college education!

    April 17, 2008 at 12:42 am |
  7. Daniel

    I go to VT. Before I say anything else, let me first make it clear that I am not a huge anti-gun advocate. I go deer hunting every year, and support people's right to own guns. However, this talk of arming every student on campus is ridiculous and full of flaws. Let's say you're in our large lecture hall on campus that holds 500 or so people, and someone stands up with a handgun and starts shooting people. Even if other students had concealed weapons, how could they distinguish one another from the shooter as to who is good and who is bad? They couldn't! If 50 people in the room had guns and this happened, bullets would be flying everywhere and countless more innocent people would likely be shot because these aren't trained police officers, undercover marshals, or Army personnel we're talking about, they're just ordinary 20 year old people with guns! They aren't accurate enough shooters or trained well enough to be trusted with that kind of responsibility. They would likely shoot one another in addition to the actual shooter. It would be mass chaos, and this is only in a situation like that. Keep in mind that this is college, where excessive alcohol consumption happens all the time, and it's a guarantee that drunken people will get in arguments that will escalate to fights. I've seen knives get pulled out a few times, granted they were never actually used because people's friends hold them back or the person with the knife doesn't make a move and just uses it as a threat, but imagine if everyone at a frat party was carrying a handgun! People would get shot all of the time. More guns means more murders, not the other way around.

    Do you want to get rid of gun violence and put a stop to violent public massacres like this one? The ONLY effective solution is to ban guns in this country altogether. I'm not advocating that, but it's the only realistic way. If you just ban handguns, people will use rifles and shotguns instead. No matter how tightly you restrict the sale of guns to the public, people will still find a way to get access to guns if they really want to. This fantasy world that some gun enthusiasts act like is a possible reality in which unrestricted gun laws and no murder by the means of guns go together is inane. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. If you want guns to be legal, then you're going to have to endure the countless violent murders that come with them. It's that simple.

    April 16, 2008 at 11:29 pm |
  8. Rachel

    I am a nurse and I have seen the need for mental health nursing and acceptance in our community. Mental health issues need to be treated just as any other medical emergency. A patient may go to the ER for a heart attack, and mental health issues should also be handled this way. Proper counseling, medications, and gun control could put and end to these senseless acts. Mental health does not need to be such a taboo subject as it has been in the past.

    April 16, 2008 at 11:22 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    i think Mr. Thompson's idea to put more guns in the hands of more people is ludicrous. There are too many people with emotional or mental problems as well as those who have anger management problems who should never have a gun. Thompson's solution doesn't solve the problem of these mass shootings at schools, it only adds to the uncertainty and fear that already exists. I don't want to have to worry when someone reaches in their jacket or pocket whether they are puling out a handkerchief or a gun.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 16, 2008 at 9:18 pm |
  10. Carol B., Virginia

    Eric Thompson is an amoral, self -serving moron making as much money as he can until the law stops him. This is a sick society with double messages all the time with regards to guns getting into the wrong hands ALL the time. Pro -NRA people don't care about teens or the mentally ill getting hold of guns and shooting people. If they did they would understand that most of us aren't against taking away their hunting rights but are AGAINST irresponsible gun owners who don't lock up their guns safely. This and black market distribution of guns that began DUE TO criminally irresponsible gun dealers! There are compromises and solutions but hey, why don't we take a couple of hundred years more to ponder them...

    April 16, 2008 at 7:50 pm |
  11. pati mc., camp hill, pa

    Oh good. Let's give guns to college students. That sounds like a solid plan to me. Are you serious? What is with this guy?

    Now I am not condemning all college students when I say this, but let's face it, there is clearly a LOT of drinking going on. Now this person wants to toss firearms into the mix? Um, yeah. Wow.

    If our campuses are supposedly that dangerous, we need to get to the root of the issue and solve it intelligently. Throwing guns at it will just lead to more senseless death.

    Thanks for remembering the VT victims and students. I have heard very little on this today. Good job!

    April 16, 2008 at 6:46 pm |
  12. Slater

    Pull funding for public schooling and have children home schooled so they are more closely supervised by parents. It would also offer a safer environment for teachers if they could teach online. Parents could socialize their children – then where would gangs and drug dealers recruit from?

    It seems expensive, but you don't need school wardrobe, cars or buses to transport kids, books, supplies, the list goes on. I feel it would improve the community to keep children close to home and other obvious reasons connected to the transit system, kid violence, etc.

    April 16, 2008 at 6:08 pm |
  13. AZM

    I don't think guns in schools is an answer... not at all.

    But it should be noted that if someone is looking to use a gun for an illegal purpose... it's not hard to get... and if you're looking to get one in an other than legal fashion... well... drugs aren't legal and not hard to come by.

    Both incidents were tragic... what a terrible loss!

    April 16, 2008 at 5:55 pm |
  14. Heather

    With all these anti-gun sentiment, I would like to point out that even if stricter gun laws are in place, people determined to break the law will still get guns and still use them to commit crime. The idea of no guns = no death is a fallacy. Instead, a legally licensed and trained citizenship should be more proactive in their own safety.

    In states that allow concealed carry, like mine, there are very rigorous requirements to get and keep that permit. It is not a matter of any person off the street suddenly being able to take a concealed weapon wherever they want.

    Think of it as driving a car. Yeah, you can drive one without a license and you can be involved in an accident even if you are careful. But the threat of law does little to deter a person who is set on driving. The same applies to firearms.

    However, if you'd like to apply the no guns = no death, then the same can be said for cars, no cars = no death. Are you going to take away my automobile next? State says I'm licensed to drive it. If the state says I'm licensed to carry my firearm, then I should be allowed to carry it. The average person isn't going to know I've got it until I use it to defend their life and my own.

    April 16, 2008 at 5:54 pm |
  15. nerakami

    With these statistics;

    "A recent UCLA survey showed that college students are feeling more overwhelmed than 15 years ago. More than 30 percent of college freshman and 38 percent of college women reported feeling depressed."

    Do you really want to put guns in the hands of so many depressed college students? I should think not ! Treat the problems of depression and mental illnesses... arming everyone is a huge recipe for disaster...

    April 16, 2008 at 4:59 pm |
  16. Rita Lincoln, Ne

    Mr. Thompson must have America confused with Iraq, where it might be appropriate to carry a gun to school for protection! His America existed 200 years ago.

    April 16, 2008 at 3:52 pm |
  17. Lesli

    Melissa and Doug

    I agree. More guns = more death. No guns = no death. In this type of crime anyway.

    Perhaps metal detectors with secure campuses would stop this kind of thing.

    I live outside of Toronto and it was not until about the last 10 years that crime and gangs have become a problem. Part of the problem is because there are a lot of young now who carry guns and knives. There are shootings and stabbing at clubs every weekend it seems. Why – because someone gets upset and pulls a weapon to solve the arguement. No guns and no knives = no deaths or asaults.

    April 16, 2008 at 3:48 pm |
  18. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    More guns is not the answer. If everyone in our society was armed, there would be shoot outs in all parts of the country and it would be like the wild west of the past.

    Responsible gun ownership is the answer. More stringent checks on who is purchasing a gun as well as registering every gun.

    It makes no sense to me that we insist on stringent laws pertaining to vehicles like licensing and testing, but guns which are primarily used to kill, are handed out to anyone with the cash to buy them.

    April 16, 2008 at 3:43 pm |
  19. Doug Pierson Tohatchi, NM

    I also agree with the previous comment. However, Virginia Tech and Columbine were the result of very disturbed youth. We need to make decisions that keep these kinds of things from happening in the future. We all need to make decisions that are not based on fear. More guns is just not very smart. The human element, the unpredictable element is still present. Just because you have a gun does not in any way make you safe. If might even encourage something worse. Think about it...rationally.

    April 16, 2008 at 2:53 pm |
  20. Melissa

    I don't believe people carrying more guns on campus is the answer. How many of them would actually train and practice using a gun safely? I imagine there would be more death if students were allowed to carry guns to school because there would be mass shootouts if someone started shooting. Perhaps the answer is more trained security to be availble to shoot a shooter.

    April 16, 2008 at 2:51 pm |
  21. Jennifer, TX

    I am glad that at least some people remember what happened at this university a year ago. So far today few people have even mentioned it. Even a couple of my favorite morning shows have been scarace on rememberance.

    With the Virginia Tech Massacre anniversary today and Columbine's anniversary soon enough, this is a time when we should remember the tragedies of our generation and of the generation before us.

    So, thank you, CNN for remembering those we've lost.

    April 16, 2008 at 2:25 pm |

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