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The mixture of horror and pity that we feel on this side of the Atlantic after hearingabout yet another massacre of US students will be tempered by anger as we ask ourselves again - why do they allow such free access to guns?

33 people have been slaughtered at Virginia Tech -which now joins a grisly list ofacademic institutions in the States where there have been mass killings.

Perhaps the most famous incident was at Columbine High School, where two unhappy students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot 13 fellow pupils and a teacher before turning their weapons on themselves.

Michael Moore even made a movie about it - “Bowling For Columbine” - in which he exposes America’s love affair with the gun.

In one hilarious but sickening scene, he is able to take away a firearm from a bank as reward for signing up.

To people outsidethe US - and indeed to many inside it - the solution looks simple. Reduce the number of guns in circulation and make it much, much harder to own a weapon.

This means that when a disaffected teenager (ie all teenagers at some time or another) get angry or depressed and want to take it out on someone else, they can’t work out their frustrations via six-shooter.

We can’t ignore the fact that the States has a much greater rural population than Britain; the use of guns for “sport” and to control pests is much greater. But even then it’s hard to see why there should be a gun for every citizen.

The truth is that firearms are part of the American psyche and have been since frontier days.

The "right" to bear arms is the fetishof a culture in which individual needs are placed above the common goodand where arguments are resolved by force.

This is certainly true politically - so why should be any different at a personal level?

It would be comforting to think that out of this terrible darkness will come the light of reform - but if past experience is any indicator, this latest bout of senseless killing will bring only grief and serve no greater purpose.

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