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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 July 2007, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Americans call for gun freedom
By Kati Whitaker
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre, many Americans have been campaigning for permission to carry guns in more places, even churches and schools.

Suzanna Hupp
Suzanna's parents were killed by a gunman in a US diner in 1991

"Imagine you are in a restaurant and a mad man is walking around from table to table, pointing a gun, taking aim and pulling the trigger, going to the next person, taking aim, pulling the trigger and so on," says Suzanna Hupp.

"Even if you have chosen not to have a gun with you - don't you hope the guy behind you has one? Just imagine that."

But Suzanna Hupp does not have to imagine.

It was October 1991 when a gunman entered the diner where Suzanna, a Texan chiropractor, was having lunch with her parents.

The man methodically executed 23 people including Suzanna's parents.

Suzanna had a gun. But since Texan state law at the time banned people from carrying guns in public places, she had left it in her car.

Nobody could have stopped the first couple of murders but it sure wouldn't have been a body bag of 32
Suzanna Hupp
"My gun was 100 feet away in my car, completely useless to me," she says.

"I was angry at my legislators because they had legislated me out of the right to protect myself and my family."

The massacre was, until Virginia Tech, the largest mass shooting by a single gunman in the US.

Now, in the wake of that tragedy, Suzanna is one of a growing body of Americans campaigning for the availability of more, rather than fewer, guns.

"Nobody could have stopped that guy from the first couple of murders but it sure wouldn't have been a body bag total of 32," she says.

Gun sales

Saxet Gun Show
Saxet Gun Show is one of Austin's largest gun conventions
Statistics are hard to come by, but at Saxet Gun Show in Austin Texas, there was plenty of anecdotal evidence to back the claim that since Virginia Tech, more Texans, at least, are now applying for licences to carry guns.

At a huge convention centre in the southern suburbs of Austin, Judith Baker of A Texas Girl's Guns firearm sales company was talking a young woman through the safety features on her new handgun.

"Gun sales have gone up since Virginia Tech. Not just my own sales but many dealers and distributors have also increased their gun sales," she says.

"And we are not just talking men here but I am seeing a lot more women wanting to get their concealed handgun licence.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Nothing will stop the killing until America changes its attitude to the gun
John, Manchester
"I am glad to see that women are learning to protect themselves."

Some 48 states in the US issue licences to allow the carrying of concealed weapons to those who pass a background check.

But states vary in their restrictions. Thirty eight states, including Virginia, ban weapons at schools.

In Texas, certain places like churches, courthouses and schools, are designated "gun-free zones".

It is an exception that Texas governor Rick Perry recently challenged with the wholehearted endorsement of campaigners like Suzanna Hupp.

"It is my fervent belief that when legislators create a list of places where people can't carry guns, what they have actually done is create a shopping list for a mad man," he said.

Guns in classes

Andrew Sugg is a student of aviation science at Baylor University at Waco and a member of the newly formed national body Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.

He is spearheading a campaign for students to be allowed to carry concealed firearms into the classroom.

PROGRAMME INFORMATION
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 5 July at 1102 BST

"I actually got angry that Virginia Tech had said 'no you can't have a gun', and here's this incident, the second-largest school shooting in the world and no-one could do anything about it," he says.

"Now, when I walk into my own class, I have to think: 'Where do I want to sit so I can make a quick getaway?'

"I look at my book bag and think: 'What can I throw at someone who comes through the door? What could I do to stall him and let everybody get away or what can I do to stop him from doing this?'."

It is a mindset that is of considerable worry to the campus police force.

Lethal combination?

Baylor University has a dedicated force of 24 police officers who are trained and drilled to respond to a firearms attack such as that at Virginia Tech.

Its chief, James Doak, said that the potential for strife is considerable among its 14,000 18-to-22 years-olds - whether it is stress of exams, girlfriend problems or simply hot tempers.

Add guns to the equation and the combination could be lethal.

"We cannot rely on students who have not been drilled in these situations to respond properly. Would they freeze up? Would they have a sense of terror in their hearts so they respond inappropriately?" he says.

"Our officers have a level of life experience which students can't possibly have at the age of 21 or 22."

But like many other Americans, Mr Sugg points to the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, as a fundamental justification for his position.

"Guns are to me a freedom, that is what won us our freedom during the revolutionary war and we've had them ever since," he says.

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 5 July 2007 at 1102 BST.

It was repeated on Monday, 9 July 2007 at 2030 BST.

SEE ALSO
US House passes gun control bill
13 Jun 07 |  Americas
Q&A: US campus killings
17 Apr 07 |  Americas

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