Sunday, September 19, 1999

How about a real American gunfight?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Once again, there has been a massacre on American soil. Are we allowed to notice that a gun was used? Or would that be un-American?

        Larry Gene Ashbrook kicked open the door of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth on Wednesday and used a semi-automatic handgun to kill seven people, including four teen-agers. His pipe bomb exploded but didn't hurt anybody.

        Of course, he was forced to make the pipe bomb on his own. We don't have pipe bomb stores and pipe bomb auctions and pipe bomb shows and professionally engineered pipe bombs available for public consumption. We do not even have a pipe bomb club. Or lobby.

        No wonder the workmanship is so crummy and they're so hard to find.

An old story
        Larry Gene Ashbrook found his gun at a flea market.

        Paul G. Labadie, writing in USA Today, points out that in 1997, “Detroit had 354 firearm homicides. Windsor — 1,000 yards away — had only 4.” Windsor, Ontario, of course, is smaller — only about a fifth the size of its neighbor. But a lot is the same. American TV violence surely seeps across the border. Firearms do not.

        Canada's gun laws are tough and getting tougher.

        We are still thinking about it.

        Thirty-three years ago, Charles J. Whitman stood on the observation deck at the University of Texas Tower and opened fire, killing 13 people. President Johnson asked Congress to “learn a lesson from the senseless sniper slayings” and to quickly enact legislation to “help prevent the wrong persons from obtaining firearms.”

        In the intervening years, guns not only have continued to get in the wrong hands, but the guns also are more lethal. As are the bullets for them. But woe to the gun manufacturer that reaches out for a solution.

        When Sturm, Ruger called for limits on high-capacity ammunition clips after a California school shooting in 1989, National Rifle Association members boycotted the company. As they did when the CEO of Colt dared to suggest gun licensing.

        NRA's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, warns that “any company that agrees to too much compromise risks a boycott,” according to Newsweek.

        So, the NRA is uncompromising. Maybe the rest of us — those of us who talk about guns, adding parenthetically that we are not talking about the guns of sportsmen — should learn from this successful organization. Let's speak up. Let's legislate. Surely that's even more American than the right to blow deer to smithereens.

        Guns are a mass-produced commodity. We regulate commerce all the time for the greater good of all Americans. Cars. Baby beds. Bottled water. And constitutional amendments are not inviolate. The First Amendment does not give reporters the right to gather news in illegal ways, as we at The Enquirer were reminded all too painfully by the Chiquita debacle.

        The Second Amendment does not guarantee that guns be unlicensed. Or unregulated. Or unchallenged.

        The NRA is right about one thing. We should take the existing gun laws more seriously. But the existing federal gun laws do not require that handguns be sold with child-safety locks. They do not require background checks for buyers at gun shows. All these things are being debated in Congress this week.

        Again. Still.

        In 1966, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy spoke on the floor of the Senate:

        “... Let us hear from the lobby of the American people. For those of us in Congress who are concerned about the need for effective gun control need their support in the fight which looms ahead.”

        Just after the killings in Fort Worth, FBI agent Robert Garrity said, “I don't know that we'll ever know why it happened.” But we know how. Guns. More than 200 million of them in the United States.

        It's an American problem. And Americans can fix it.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.