Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Lesson Unlearned: From Luby's Cafeteria to Fort Hood

Eighteen years and two weeks ago, tragedy struck Killeen, Texas as a single vengeful killer armed with two pistols murdered 23 people and wounded 20 more customers eating lunch in Luby's Cafeteria. Last week, a different single vengeful killer armed with two pistols murdered one civilian and 12 soldiers and wounded 30 more at neighboring Ft. Hood, less than eight miles up U. S. Highway 190 from the old Luby's site.

While the two killers had nothing in common other than hatred for America, the victims shared sad similarities: victims of terrorists and victims of the law. The loss of life, the tragic losses suffered by their families, the life changing wounds of those whose lives were made worse, much worse, by laws that forced them into harm's way.

Among the dead at Luby's that day were Al and Ursula Gratia. Their daughter, Dr. Suzanna Hupp, was with them when the restaurant was attacked while they were eating. But for a Texas law that required that she leave her personal pistol outside in her car, that forbade her from carrying it into the restaurant, Dr. Hupp would have had the ability to defend her parents, herself and the others from the erratic but deadly attack by George Hennard in the second-worst shooting rampage in American history.

Dr. Hupp, reacting instinctively to the first shots, reached into her purse for her pistol.

It was not there.

Complying with Texas law of the time, she had locked her pistol in her truck parked outside. She watched in shock as her father attempted to subdue the shooter and was shot dead. She watched as Hennard repeatedly reloaded his pistols and resumed shooting. She watched as her mother, comforting her dying father, was killed.

Dr. Hupp escaped death that day and vowed to make a difference, promising herself to never again be a victim of senseless slaughter. A year later, she led the effort to change Texas law so that today more than 200,000 law-abiding Texans can protect themselves and others by lawfully carrying concealed pistols. There have been no mass shootings in Texas since… until last week.

On Thursday, Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan walked into a processing center in the middle of Ft. Hood, and opened fire against its 300 occupants with one of his two pistols, stopping to reload at least five times. Forty-two of his targets were soldiers, each of them trained with firearms. Of his 300 potential victims, dozens were experts with rifle or pistol, but in accordance with current law none of the 300 were allowed access to weapons on base, not the military weapons with which they'd soon be deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan nor their personal guns. Though knowledgeable, skilled and responsible, they were made defenseless by the law. While their leaders trust these men and women to wander the world with weapons that can level a building, they don't trust them with a handgun at home.

Interestingly, the first responder at Fort Hood was a woman armed with a pistol. Civilian police officer Kimberly Munley, who just last month finished an 80-hour course certifying her as a firearm instructor for her agency, was directing traffic when the call to respond came, "shots fired." She followed a strategy developed after the Virgina Tech shootings, another mass shooting in a state sponsored "gun free zone." Rather than waiting for backup or overwhelming responding force, Officer Munley rushed with her partner to the sound of guns. Within seconds of arrival, she shot the killer four times and stopped the death clock.

Ron Borsch, police trainer at the SEALE Regional Training Academy in Bedford, Ohio is an especially vocal proponent of training for active shooter incidents. He stresses the training that Officer Munley followed so well: get in the fight, don't wait; locate and immobilize the shooter; seconds count to save lives. This new strategy is replacing the old mindset to contain the problem while waiting for SWAT to actually take action, a disaster at Columbine, a disaster at the Amish school in Pennsylvania, a disaster at Virginia Tech.

Missed by the press, ignored by politicians, mass shootings now take place almost exclusively in "gun-free zones", areas where law abiding citizens are disarmed by force of law. The crazies have proven to be remarkably adept at attacking these soft spots. They've proven equally adept at collapsing at the very first armed resistance.

It's time we follow the Israeli model, proven effective in a nation also at war against enemies that strive for terror. Like Israel, let's arm our military, whether on base or off, on duty or not. Let's enable them to protect themselves against the further attacks which are certain to come. Let's empower them to help defend the rest of us.

Let's recognize the truth that Ron Borsch teaches: seconds count and only an immediate response will stop the death clock. At a minimum, interrupting the active shooter will slow the rate of killing and allow time for responders to arrive. In the best case, the death clock will be stopped.

Let's heed the example of the New Life Church in Arvada, Colorado, which, when threatened, called for volunteers from among its congregation to help guard its flock. Church member Jeanne Assam, a CCW holder, answered the call and later answered the challenge when a deranged visitor opened fire. Ms. Assam stopped the death clock and is credited with saving countless lives.

Let's learn the costly lessons of Killeen spread over two decades, where now the spirits of 36 unnecessarily lost lives speak to us, asking that we quit playing political games with so-called gun control and start treating the lives of our friends and neighbors as extraordinarily valuable, not to be wasted by leaders who are more afraid of the people they lead than the people they fight.

RELATED LINKS: Female Church Member with Personal Pistol Kills Assassing, Saves Lives
Ten Years Later, It's True: After Guns Have Been Outlawed, Only Outlaws Have Guns
Terrorists in America Switching to "Plan B"?
Is Virginia Tech Education's "9/11"?
Texas Learns 9/11 Lesson From Virginia Tech

Let's arm our military… or at the very least let's arm our women.

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