Shootings Echo Across Decades Without Gun Control Solutions
Shootings Echo Across Decades Without Gun Control
By: Roger Simon
April 16, 2007 05:18 PM EST
Remember the Wedgwood Baptist Church massacre in Fort
Worth, Texas on Sept. 15, 1999?
Probably not. Only seven people were killed at a teen
service when Larry Gene Ashbrook sprayed the sanctuary
with fire from two semi-automatic handguns before
killing himself. He was angry at religion or
It was nothing compared to what had happened less than
five months earlier at Columbine High School in
Columbine you remember. Everybody remembers Columbine.
Twelve students and one teacher were killed by two
teenagers who felt they werent popular enough. Or
Columbine caused many schools to adopt a zero
tolerance policy toward weapons and threats of
Which obviously didnt do much to prevent the massacre
at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Monday in which
at least 32 people were killed.
But Wedgwood Baptist Church retains its small place in
the history of gun violence in America, because it
came during a presidential campaign and forced the
candidates to talk about it.
George W. Bush said: I don't know of a law - - a
governmental law - - that will put love in people's
hearts. There seems to be a wave of evil passing
through America now...but our hopes and our prayers
have got to be that there is a more love in society.
Which was the classic Republican position: Guns dont
kill people; people without love in their hearts kill
Al Gore took the classic Democratic position:
Government has to do something.
Gore went on Larry King Live and said that assault
weapons like the 9 mm Ruger and the .380 AMT
semiautomatic handguns that Ashbrook had used should
I think a lot of people have heard the tricky
arguments and all of the rationalizations, and I think
they just have had enough of it, Gore said. We have
a flood of handguns that are too deadly. Theyre in
the wrong hands.
And Gores operatives made sure that reporters had
copies of the 1997 law that Bush had signed barring
prosecution of people who brought guns to churches or
synagogues unless the houses of worship had posted
notices alerting people that guns were not wanted.
Has it come to this? Gore asked. Are we not even
safe in church anymore?
The Bush campaign lashed back angrily. The American
people are tired of politicians trying to politicize
every tragedy, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said.
They are looking for leaders to help heal the
country, not those who use tragedies to score
Guns would play a big part in the outcome of the race.
In his two terms as president, Bill Clinton had
succeeded in making gun control a mainstream political
issue and was able to convince hunters that banning
assault rifles and cop-killer bullets would in no way
harm their sport.
Gore was not able to pull this off. Gore was not able
to counter National Rifle Association attacks and was
not able to reach across the cultural divide to
hunters, many of whom were among the lower-income
white males that Gore, in general, did poorly with.
Had Gore won his home state of Tennessee, Clintons
home state of Arkansas or the Democratic state of West
Virginia, he would not have needed to win Florida in
order to gain the presidency. But he lost them all.
And guns had a lot to do with it.
According to exit polls, some 48 percent of voters
owned guns in 2000, up from 37 percent in 1996. (This
did not necessarily mean more people owned guns, but
rather that more gun owners went to the polls.) Among
those owning guns, 61 percent voted for Bush.
More significant, however, was what gun ownership did
to other voting patterns: Overall, union households
gave Gore 59 percent of their votes. But if there was
a gun in that union household, the vote was split
50-50 between Bush and Gore.
From then on, Democrats have grown very reluctant to
talk about gun control. It has become a radioactive
issue. And a Republican who once was an ardent
supporter of it, Rudy Giuliani, now says he supports
the right of individuals to bear arms and that the
states not the federal government should decide how to
After Gores defeat, Terry McAuliffe, then chairman of
the Democratic Party, was vocal in advising Democrats
to abandon gun control as an issue in future
I believe we ought to move it out, let the individual
communities decide their gun laws and how guns ought
to be treated, he said. It has had a devastating
impact on elections because the NRA has targeted and
spent millions of dollars distorting individual
members views and Al Gores views.
Sen. Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said after
Gores loss: It has been a disaster that the
Democratic party has fallen to the Rosie ODonnell
reputation for getting rid of all the guns. That is a
mindless approach, frankly. If youre from a rural
state like I am, you know there is nothing wrong with
gun ownership, hunting, or self-defense.
The political reasoning was simple: If Democrats were
going to win the presidency, they needed to win the
South and rural voters. And you didnt get the South
and rural voters by being against guns.
We need people who believe in the basic lifestyle of
rural areas, Feingold said. A lot of urban Democrats
think gun ownership is weird. It isnt weird. We need
to give the American gun owner an agenda that does not
include confiscation. Unlike abortion, the gun issue
can be easily resolved by a meeting of minds somewhere
John McCain said after Columbine: We have to reduce
the availability of guns to children. We have to more
clearly define what a gun show is and what an assault
weapon is. But if you banned every gun, you would
still have web sites that teach kids how to make pipe
bombs and web sites that teach hatred. The Democrats
blame it all on gun control and the Republicans blame
it all on Hollywood. In reality, its multi-faceted.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who didnt join
the NRA until August, 2006, when he decided to run for
president, now finds it politically advantageous to
brag about being a hunter, even though he has rarely
Presidential candidates, who usually flood the e-mail
boxes of reporters with statements on everything under
the sun, were very slow to send any e-mails or
otherwise speak out on the shooting at Virginia Tech
An exception was John Edwards, the former Democratic
senator from North Carolina,
who said at a rally in Nashville: Our prayers go out
to these young people and it appears to be mostly
students and their families. God bless them. And
its a terrible tragedy in America.
In a later written statement, Edwards and his wife,
Elizabeth, said they were simply heartbroken.
Romney issued a brief statement saying: "The entire
nation grieves for the victims of this terrible
tragedy that took place today on the campus of
Virginia Tech. Our thoughts and prayers are with the
victims, their families and the entire Virginia Tech
community. Our full support is behind the law
enforcement officials who are involved with
stabilizing the situation and conducting an
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said: This is a sad
day and our hearts go out to the Virginia Tech
community as it grieves this loss.
Giuliani Communications Director Katie Levinson issued
a statement cancelling political events for Tuesday
and saying: "Our nation mourns for those who were
killed, prays for those who survived and stands
shoulder to shoulder with the families, friends and
loved ones of all touched by this horrific tragedy.
Tomorrow is a day for prayer, reflection and unity. It
is a time for our great country to come together.
President Bush said in a televised statement: Our
nation is shocked and saddened by the news of the
shootings at Virginia Tech today .Schools should be
places of safety and sanctuary and learning. When
that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in
every American classroom and every American
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) came to the House
floor to lead a moment of silence, and said she also
spoke for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The continued prayers of this Congress are with the
students, their families, the faculty and the staff of
Virginia Tech, Pelosi said. Leader Boehner joins me
in extending our condolences to all concerned.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said: The
thoughts and prayers of all Americans are with the
Virginia Tech family today. As we learn more about
this horrific tragedy - - the deadliest shooting in
our nations history - - it breaks our hearts and
shakes us to our very cores. We pray for those who
were lost and for the speedy recovery of the wounded.
And we pray that America can find the strength to
overcome our grief and outrage as we face this tragedy
Nobody mentioned gun control.