December 13, 2007
• Evening Things Up
It’s nice to see a gun even things up a bit — Kevin O’Brien
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Plain Dealer Columnist
When the U.S. Supreme Court gets around to deciding what the Second Amendment means to Justice Anthony Kennedy – who, we are constantly reminded, is the guy who really matters – I hope it won’t forget what happened on Sunday in Colorado Springs.
What started out as a perfect example of the dangers of allowing Americans to keep and bear arms – the fatal shooting of two teenage girls and the wounding of their father in a church parking lot – ended instead as a nearly perfect example of the wisdom of allowing Americans to keep and bear arms.
It’s only nearly perfect, because the resolution involved a church security guard who had once been a police officer, not just some member of the congregation who happened to be armed that afternoon.
That small imperfection, unfortunately, leaves an argument for the people whose irrational fear of guns overpowers their rational fear of criminals: “This was a former cop,” they’ll say. “Cops undergo extensive firearms training, etc., etc., etc.”
Fine. But just for the record, if I ever need someone to save my life by firing a gun, I’ll take the gun enthusiast who’s at the range twice a week over the well-trained cop who happens to be an indifferent marksman.
I’ve got a perfect example of something else, though. It’s what happens in a place full of innocent, unsuspecting people where no one is armed except the guy who decides to go on a rampage. That one played out at a shopping mall in Omaha last Wednesday.
No law-abiding person had a gun to stop the homicidal maniac who used his stepfather’s semiautomatic rifle to blow away the mall’s no-guns-allowed policy, then killed eight people.
Before he started shooting, his odd behavior had drawn the attention of the mall’s unarmed security guards. But since they had nothing to draw, they weren’t a factor. In the end, the shooter killed himself. (I’m not naming him, so as to do my own small part to frustrate one of his intentions – “now I’ll be famous,” a note he left said, in part. In this column, he’s not famous. He’s just dead and unlamented.)
Four days later and 600 miles away, another guy with criminal intent walked into the foyer of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs with three guns, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition and 7,000 human targets from whom to choose. He already had killed Stephanie and Rachael Works in the parking lot, and had killed Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24, at a Christian youth center hours earlier.
He put smoke canisters at all of the church entrances but the one he wanted to use, to add to the panic and discourage potential victims from escaping before he was done with them. But there was one thing he apparently hadn’t thought through. And in a land that fears guns more than it fears criminals, why would he even consider it?
He wasn’t expecting armed resistance.
I’d be willing to bet that at the moment when church security guard Jeanne Assam pointed her pistol at him, his mind registered exactly the same thought he’d been planting in others’ minds that day: Wow. A gun. And in church, no less! Who would have thought?
Assam, with admirable humility and without a flicker of emotion, told the crux of the story at a Monday meeting with reporters: “I saw him coming through the doors. . . . I took cover and I waited for him to get closer, and I came out of cover and identified myself and engaged him and took him down.”
The reporters applauded, as should we all, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
It would be wonderful if the court issued a ruling that said, “Of course law-abiding Americans are allowed to own guns. Come on, ask us a harder one.” Instead, we’ll probably get the court’s usual hair, carefully chosen and carefully split.
Either way, I hope that when Anthony Kennedy sits down to decide which way his vote will swing, he’ll consider that when the shooting starts, an armed church is a safer place than a “gun-free” mall.
O’Brien is The Plain Dealer’s deputy editorial page director.
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