Ban knives? Murrysville school attack prompts gun debate

Family members hug in Murrysville, Pennsylvania following a knife attack at a local high school. Image copyright AP
Image caption Murrysville, Pennsylvania, families react to the mass stabbing at a local high school

On Wednesday 16-year-old Alex Hribal allegedly entered a high school near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and stabbed 21 of his classmates and a security guard. Although some of the injuries are serious, so far there have been no fatalities.

Given the recent history of school shootings in the US, it didn't take long before the incident became fuel for the ongoing debate over gun control. If you were wondering whether the chasm between the two sides on this issue had narrowed at all, it hasn't.

The Pennsylvania attack proves that firearms aren't the problem, argue gun rights advocates. A disturbed individual is always capable of finding a weapon and causing violence.

"Jack the Ripper, OJ Simpson, Ted Bundy and the BTK killer never used a gun to subdue or killer their victims, and yet our administration would have us believe that guns are our enemy," writes Elizabeth Nelson of Capitalist Preservation blog. "Guns aren't our problem, mentally ill people are."

Dan Zimmerman on The Truth About Guns blog agrees:

As someone once said, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun (or a knife) is a good guy with a gun. Of course, as we all know, our schools are sterile, gun free zones where, with the occasional exception of a resource officer, guns are prohibited. Kinda like our military bases. How's that working out?

Alex Jones's site asks whether liberals will now start calling for a knife ban:

School shootings have resulted in demands from the Obama administration and Congress for laws scaling back the Second Amendment. Piers Morgan and other media figures have railed against the idea citizens have a right to own firearms.

Is it possible they will now move to restrict the use of knives and other sharp instruments? Will the government create a national cutlery database? Will there be a move to microstamp buck knives?

Ah yes, Piers Morgan - the Brit who until recently hosted a CNN talk show, where he was an outspoken proponent of gun control. As Salon's Elias Isquith documents, Morgan continues to be a lightning rod for gun boosters, who showered his Twitter feed with invective.

"America's lack of knife control is sickening, isn't it fella?" went a typical tweet.

Although Mr Morgan was largely silent, other pro-gun advocates framed their arguments along the lines of a comment made by one of the surgeons who operated on students injured during the attack.

"Even though many people were injured and injured severely, this would be a completely different scenario if a firearm was in place," Dr Juan Carlos Puyana said.

Michael Daly of the Daily Beast writes that President Barack Obama might be appearing at another mass shooting memorial service "if the mayhem at Franklin High had been perpetrated with a 9-mm pistol like the one the 2009 Fort Hood gunman used or the .45 calibre pistol the more recent shooter wielded."

"Nobody could have outrun a bullet if the suspect had been armed with a gun, but anybody who managed to stay outside the reach of the blades escaped injury," he writes.

The editors of the Hartford Courant compare the school shooting in nearby Newtown, Connecticut, and this week's incident in Pennsylvania:

Gun advocates frequently quote the old saw that "Guns don't kill people - people kill people," and argue that determined would-be attackers, if denied firearms, will find other weapons. As far as they go, those statements aren't untrue.

But look at the consequences: In Connecticut, 20 children and six educators died. In Pennsylvania, nearly two dozen people were attacked, and there were no deaths.

They conclude: "Pennsylvanians must ask themselves, as we and all Americans must: What if this student hadn't used a knife? What if he had wielded a gun?"

"Knife attacks happen in countries such as Japan where guns are hard to access, and they have been lethal," writes John Hopkins Prof Katherine Newman. "Just not as deadly as a loaded high-capacity automatic weapon that requires a split second to gun down dozens of people."

So this is where the gun debate stands in the US. A 16-year-old boy can run through a school, indiscriminately stabbing his fellow classmates, and it's either compelling evidence that gun control doesn't work - or exactly why it does.

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