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Spencer: Tragedy In Aztec, Revisited

on December 19, 2017 - 7:58am
Los Alamos

Stephanie Nakhleh asks some good questions in her letter regarding the Aztec school shooting and reflects a lot of our mutual frustration with not being able to stop these things from happening. But she may have missed the article in the Albuquerque Journal that stated that the FBI had investigated the shooter and reported him to the local police. The FBI did not have adequate justification to equate William Atchison's obnoxious rants with a credible threat so they could not act on their information to arrest, interdict, or put the future shooter on a no-buy list. Neither could the local police.

That in a nutshell is the problem with having both First and Second Amendment rights. The Founders assumed a sort of circuit breaker between thought and action. That was clearly missing in this and a lot of cases. How we re-instill that mental circuit breaker is a good question. I think laws are not a guarantee of success but perhaps education and social outreach combined with some carefully targeted legislation might be effective.

One option is to institute a "may issue" permitting process for purchasing a handgun in New Mexico that would allow local law enforcement to put the brakes on a future Mr. Achison until he matured a little and demonstrated some distance between radical ideology and radical lawlessness. The trouble with that idea is that while it may, if we are lucky, interdict the William Atchisons of the nation, it also empowers law enforcement to arbitrarily and capriciously deny other people their rights. Having grown up in a "may issue" state, New York, I saw that arbitrariness and capriciousness used against my uncle, a WW II combat veteran with a spotless military record and no criminal history who was denied the right to defend himself by the actions of a law enforcement official who didn't even have to offer a reason to deny my uncle a handgun permit. That was in spite of my uncle having defended his nation while dodging German '88' shellfire as he fought his way across Europe. In a neighboring jurisdiction, I was granted, straight out of college, an unrestricted concealed carry permit virtually no questions asked. The bottom line is that permitting had virtually nothing to do with one's reliability or qualifications and everything to do with local politics. If you like that idea applied to guns, feel free to apply it to abortion rights or anything else.

Back to my uncle, who with an increasing disability due to nerve damage in his neck as he grew older, worked late nights as the maitre d'Hotel at a well known restaurant in Buffalo, the Anchor Bar, which local readers might know from the "Buffalo Wings" that were invented at his restaurant. He wished to carry a gun for protection as he left work at long past midnight and due to his nerve damage and age could neither outrun nor outfight anyone on his way home in inner city Buffalo. So in spite of his history of being a combat veteran and honorable citizen, he was denied a permit. Yours truly, with neither age nor maturity nor a history of knowing how to defend myself in combat as my strong points, could carry a hand cannon virtually anywhere I wished. Go figure.

Perhaps if the gun violence prevention community could ensure that these travesties that tormented my uncle would not occur, we in the gun community could offer to meet our political adversaries halfway. After seeing what my uncle went through, I have little confidence in such a situation of trust ever developing. In fact, given recent political polarization, the political climate, like the natural one, seems to be changing for the worse.