WE HUMANS are an opportunistic group. Our genius lies in taking life's tragedies, great and small, and somehow turning them to our advantage. Sometimes we're sincere. More often, our reactions mirror our personal agendas.

Some used 9/11 to target all Muslims as terrorists and camouflage racism as red-white-and-blue patriotism. On the other hand, some Arabs and Muslims want to think the entire Western world is after them, leading to ridiculous civil-rights lawsuits against vigilant "John Does."

Then there's Imus, the new catchword for "racist." While the radio shock jock is certainly a foul-mouthed character, it seems strange that he lost his job so quickly when a local firefighter who called for the death of fellow police officers in a rap song is still holding on to his. And please don't give me a song and dance about comparing apples and oranges; Imus lost his job because of unacceptable speech. But he shouldn't be the only one in the unemployment line. Many people say repulsive things, but society shouldn't only make an example of some of them.

And let's not forget the Duke boys. How fortuitous that Imus shot off his mouth about the Rutgers women a few days before the remaining charges against the lacrosse players were dropped. It allows us to ignore the ugly fact that they were as much victims of racism as their athletic sisters at Rutgers.

And now we have a chance to exploit some spin again, on the backs of the dead students on a Virginia campus. Hours after the tragedy, bloggers were already posting messages about our "gun culture" and how it was only natural that a redneck state like Virginia with lax gun laws would be the scene of such carnage. On a local site, the first message posted began with the phrase "Is it time yet to ban guns?"

No surprise there. Without waiting to find out the details, without caring that the issue is more complicated than whether a deranged student went postal, the anti-gun lobbyists started milking this horrendous tragedy for political gain.

Ironically, that's what Bush-haters have decided to do, too. When the president said he was going to attend the memorial service for the fallen students, critics began to demand, self-righteously, that he stay away.

An alumnus of the school allowed portions of his diary to be posted on the Daily Kos that included this: "you cannot resist the temptation to distract people from your failed foreign and domestic policies, not to mention the corruption threatening the survival of your terrible tenure as the president."

Ah, yes. The president goes to pay his respects in some Machiavellian attempt to distract us from Iraq. Not simple humanity, not the appropriate gesture - just a cheap political trick. (And just imagine the reaction if he hadn't gone . . .)

The tragedy in Virginia, like the identical and equally heartbreaking catastrophes in Columbine and Killeen, Texas, and countless other places shouldn't be used to make instant political points.

It's despicable to see the way people won't even wait until the young bodies are cold in their graves before they try to twist the facts into their own indictment of pet grievances.

We have the anti-gun folks saying that the students' blood is on National Rifle Association hands. We have the pro-gun advocates making the equally ridiculous claim that guns don't kill people, people do (um, people with guns do, actually). We have immigration restrictionists crowing about how the alleged perpetrator was a foreign student, and blame the State Department for letting psychotics into the country. The open-border types are saying that foreign students are going to be targeted by racist thugs.

It's all sound and fury, signifying nothing more than the desire to take advantage of an unnatural yet unavoidable disaster.

But the people who win the award for taking opportunism to Olympian heights are the Senate Democrats. Yesterday, the day after the shootings, Alberto Gonzales was supposed to testify before the Judiciary Committee. He'd asked for an extension of time for preparation, which was categorically denied by the Democrats. Then came the word that they've postponed the hearing.

I guess they didn't want the Virginia Tech tragedy to take the spotlight off of their witch hunt. Or maybe some of them went to the memorial service, too? *

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.