Too Many Guns in the U.S. -- or Too Few?

Too Many Guns in the U.S. -- or Too Few?

By Carl M. Cannon - July 27, 2012

A rampage shooting at the Youth With a Mission center in Arvada, Colo., the night before had taken two lives and left a third man critically wounded. The crime scene was 70 miles from the Colorado Springs campus of the New Life Church. But the killer had escaped into the snowy night, and one member of the congregation -- former Minnesota policewoman Jeanne Assam -- had an ominous feeling he might strike again.

Acting on her instincts, Assam urged the church pastors to post volunteer guards -- some of them armed -- at Sunday services at the sprawling mega-church. And at 1 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2007, Jeanne Assam’s premonition came true.

The Arvada gunman, 24-year-old Matthew J. Murray, showed up just after the 11 a.m. worship service at New Life had ended. He began blazing away in the parking lot, killing two teenage sisters and wounding their father and another woman. Unloading two pistols and a semi-automatic rifle from his car -- along with 1,000 rounds of ammunition in a backpack -- he headed into the church’s foyer.

Hearing the gunfire in the parking lot, Assam drew her licensed pistol from its holster and headed toward the gunman . . .

A Killing Machine

After last week’s horrific shootings inside a movie house in suburban Denver, Americans did what they always do in such circumstances: We moved in two different directions at once.

Many people decried the ease with which firearms can be obtained in this country by unbalanced people with no business playing with matches, let alone high-powered rifles. Others went out and bought a gun. And some did both.

These are contradictory impulses, but they both make sense. Many ordinary Americans, unlike our polarized and linear political parties, can hold two competing ideas in their minds at the same time. In the aftermath of the “Dark Knight” killings in Aurora, those two thoughts were as follows:

(1) It is far too easy for mentally unstable individuals to acquire deadly firearms in this country.

(2) The only person known to be packing heat in that multiplex last week was the killer, and, God forbid, if a similar situation ever arises, carrying a loaded gun would at least give me a fighting chance.

So this week legal gun sales, along with applications of “carry and conceal” permits, spiked upward -- just as they did after Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting in Tucson in January 2011. One factor at play? Fear that President Obama intends to push for stricter gun controls.

Once upon a time, this was indeed the reflex of Washington lawmakers to events like the one that happened last week -- and it may be again. Mostly, however, that is an echo of a time that predates Obama’s tenure in the nation’s capital.

On July 1, 1993, 55-year-old loner Gian Luigi Ferri, dressed in a business suit and carrying a black attaché case, took the elevator to the 34th floor of a San Francisco office tower at 101 California St. When he unbuttoned his coat, it was apparent that he had two semiautomatic IntraTec Tec-9 handguns around his neck, along with a .45-caliber pistol in a holster. He carried 250 rounds of ammunition, and wore earplugs as he went office to office in the law firm of Pettit & Martin, shooting people he had never met.

When S.F.P.D. officers arrived, Ferri turned his gun on himself, but not before he had killed eight and wounded six. It was the deadliest such shooting in the city’s history, and it made San Franciscans angry. All that firepower, said Assistant Police Chief Earl Sanders, had “turned a 55-year-old, pudgy, out-of-shape little man into a killing machine.”

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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