On Thursday, an individual who had "serious grievances with the city government" in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, Missouri brought his gun to the police station and then a City Council meeting and killed five people - first two police officers, then two council members and the public works director - and wounded two others, including the mayor.
According to the killer's brother, the shooter "went to war tonight with the people, the government that was putting torment and strife into his life." News reports mentioned that the shooter "felt harassed" because police "cracked down on his parking of vehicles for his construction company outside his home...."
After two arrests for disorderly conduct at council meetings in 2006, and a subsequent conviction, the shooter continued to regularly attend and disrupt council meetings, making "inappropriate noises, heehawing like a donkey" and making "derogatory comments."
The shooter's brother said, "he has spoke [sic] on it as best he could in the courts, and they denied all rights to the access of protection and he took it upon himself to go to war and end the issue."
We also learned yesterday about an aborted "large-scale shooting rampage" at the Super Bowl from an individual who "purchased an AR-15 assault rifle from a Phoenix-area gun store on Jan. 29" along with 200 rounds of ammunition, and "planned a massacre as a form of revenge against the Tempe, Ariz. City Council - because it overwhelmingly denied a liquor license for his restaurant."
In a letter mailed before he decided not to carry out the attack, the gun buyer said that "I cannot outvote, outspend, outtax or outincarcerate my enemies ... but for a brief moment I can outgun them."
These two stories raise a number of issues - the weakness of our gun laws nationally, as well as in most of the states; the easy accessibility of assault rifles and large stores of ammunition; the non-deterrent effect of police carrying guns and the disregard by those who are willing to be "suicide shooters" for their own lives; and the highly-charged level of controversy involved in much of local government activity.
This last point deserves some more attention. One of the first times I got involved in a controversy with the gun lobby was when, as Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, I suggested that individuals not be allowed to bring guns into our City-County building. (The County, which owned the building, had just banned guns from the County Courthouse and I argued there were just as many contentious issues being discussed and decided by the legislative and administrative parts of local government as by the judicial part.)
The gun lobby saw this suggestion as an attack on their "Second Amendment rights" and responded strongly. As someone who had received death threats and been called a "dictator" because of other government issues, I knew that there were a lot of people who I did not want to see carrying guns into city meetings and the offices of city employees.
These incidents all highlight the tensions involved when individuals argue that their "personal liberty" outweighs the rule of law and trumps community policy as decided by our governmental systems.
These tensions are part of the legal debate about the Second Amendment in the D.C. v. Heller case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court. In the brief filed for Heller on Monday, his lawyers argue in favor of the "individual use of Second-Amendment-protected arms to check despotism" and the importance of "retaining the ability to resist tyranny."
The killer in Kirkwood and the would-be shooter at the Super Bowl both thought they had to act to "check despotism" and "resist tyranny." But encouraging easier access to dangerous weapons by dangerous people puts us all at risk. We need to value the rule of law along with the claims of individual liberty or we all suffer.