Most Americans no doubt saw last week’s shootings at a homeless shelter and a church in Colorado as yet another horrendous event arising from a culture of violence.
Most Americans no doubt saw last week’s shootings at a homeless shelter and a church in Colorado as yet another horrendous event arising from a culture of violence. Not so the gun zealots among us. For them, what happened was a cause for celebration.
They were not celebrating the deaths of innocent people, of course. They were, however, celebrating the fact that the shooter was stopped by a private citizen carrying a gun.
Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, in an essay headlined “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” wrote, “I have been waiting for this to happen. For years we have witnessed the carnage when innocents were mowed down at schools, colleges, shopping malls and post offices. The unarmed (disarmed?) were easy targets for crazed gunmen armed with grievances, weapons and ammunition.
“Now someone has shot back … probably saving many lives.”
Further down he added, “The point is that gun laws will not deter criminals with evil intent and police can’t be everywhere they’re needed. But killers can be stopped by law-abiding citizens with guns.”
Thomas, at least, acknowledged that Jean Assam, the woman who stopped the gunman, is not just any private citizen. She is a former Minneapolis police officer, trained to handle situations like that. He should have also included the information that she was not there just by chance – she had volunteered her services as a security guard at the church.
None of the dozen or so additional comments I read on various blogs and message boards sponsored by organizations such as the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Center, which have a long history of opposition to gun laws, made the slightest mention of those crucial facts. Instead, those folks would let almost anyone, except for convicted criminals or individuals with mental disorders, carry guns wherever they might please.
Let’s think about this. Like Cal Thomas, most of us probably cheered the fact that Jean Assam was there to stop the madman at New Life Church before he claimed even more victims. But the thought of adding to the numbers of people we have carrying guns, other than police professionals like her, is just nuts.
Remember the Wild West? It was called that for good reason. Just about everyone packed guns, and they used them at the slightest provocation – an insult in a bar, perhaps, or a dispute between ranchers over water rights or grazing rights.
It is a safe guess that the number deliberately killed during the period from about 1870 to 1885 was in the thousands – and who knows how many more were innocent victims, including women and children caught in the crossfire. That is why towns like Dodge City, Kansas, and Tombstone, Arizona, finally began enacting gun laws and hiring tough sheriffs such as Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson to enforce them.
Yes, there will be times when an honest citizen with a gun will stop a criminal or a deranged shooter. Likewise, there will be more incidents like the one at the shopping mall in Omaha, where a gunman was blazing away and no one could stop him until police arrived. More often, though, more guns mean more deaths, not fewer. The average case of road rage gains the potential of turning out like a bar fight in Dodge City. The average drunken brawl at a professional football game suddenly turns into the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
As I was reading over the commentary on the Colorado shootings, I was reminded of an incident that happened when I was growing up in Detroit in the 1950s. Someone went berserk and walked down a busy street swinging a baseball bat, smashing the windows of parked cars as he passed. As I remember it, he smashed perhaps a dozen or so before he was wrestled to the ground. That incident brought a big splash in the news. A man smashing windows today would get brief mention. Big news requires a mass killing.
Madmen have done such killings throughout history, and we may never truly understand why. In today’s world, these events are becoming almost common. Things are spiraling out of control. Here is the crucial question: How did we get to the point that even churches now find need for security guards at their Sunday services?
Spreading more guns around will only escalate the violence.
Dan Hall is the former editorial page editor of Messenger Post Newspapers. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org