Another day, another white man guns down his neighbors in Colorado


Friends! It’s that crazybusy time of the semester, when Team Historiann is spending 8, 10, and even 12 hours a day on campus! As I keep saying to my friends and colleagues here and around the world:  I’ve forgotten how much work work is.  Ah, sabbatical. . . . in my mind, I’m still there.

Anyhoo, as the kids say–ICYMIin case you missed it, we had another senseless mass shooting of innocent strangers here in Colorado Springs on Saturday morning.  You might have missed it entirely, because it ended with “only” the deaths of three victims and the shooter himself.  White?  Check.  Male?  Check.  Probably barking mad? Check.  And yet this “Christian drunk,” as his mother called him, still had access to high-power firearms?  Checkity check check check.  Check.

Today’s update in The Denver Post, in which the murderer and victims alike were identified, included a choice detail that most of you outside Colorado might otherwise miss:

Witnesses watched in horror as [the perpetrator] picked his victims off. One of them, the bicyclist, pleaded for his life before being killed.

“I heard the (young man) say, ‘Don’t shoot me! Don’t shoot me!’ ” Naomi Bettis, a neighbor who witnessed the killing, said Monday.

Bettis said she recognized the gunman as her neighbor — whom she didn’t know by name — and that before the initial slaying she saw him roaming outside with a rifle. She called 911 to report the man, but a dispatcher explained that Colorado has an open carry law that allows public handling of firearms.

“He did have a distraught look on his face,” Bettis said. “It looked like he had a rough couple days or so.”

Got that?  When a concerned citizen reported the crazed gunman to 911 before he opened fire, she wasn’t taken seriously at all.  In fact, it seems as though she was treated to a patronizing lecture about the “open carry law that allows the public handling of firearms.”

Never mind that she noted that the soon-to-be perp had a “distraught look on his face.”  Never mind that “it looked like he had a rough couple of days or so.”  We in Colorado must tolerate individuals carrying firearms no matter how deranged or dangerous they appear to their neighbors.  It’s only a crime when they shoot members of the unsuspecting public!

Historians of the future will wonder at the collective insanity that make events like this just a part of everyday life in Colorado and in the United States.  Our great-grandchildren will regard us with pity and amazement.

UPDATE, 2:40 P.M. MST:  Check out the new story at the DP:  Open Carry Becomes Focus After Colorado Springs Shooting Rampage.  Ya think???

28 thoughts on “Another day, another white man guns down his neighbors in Colorado

  1. That’s just…. I hope the 911 dispatcher apologizes to someone.
    And yes, among the things future historians will wonder at is our gun laws.

    It would be interesting to compile a list of things in our society that we think historians – and certainly students – will have trouble imagining. There are some I’m certain of – people will be astonished at the barbarity of chemo for cancer treatment. But will people be amazed that some of us still believed in democracy, or that we allowed so much money in?


    • Yes–there are loads of things that require police intervention. Let’s make a list–here are the things that come to my mind that have received very speedy–and in fact deadly–attention from local police forces:
      1. African American preteens with toy guns
      2. Children playing in a park unsupervised by parents/walking home without parents.

      You can take it from here.


      • Your reference to Tamir Rice is to the point. As others have pointed out, Ohio has an open carry law, and if Tamir Rice were as old as the police perceived him to be (“maybe twenty”), then he was entitled legally to display a gun in that park.


      • We still hold out hope that the Grand Jury will do the right thing and indict Tamir Rice’s executioner.

        It is beyond heartbreaking as well as beyond reason that anyone could think that murdering someone–let alone a child–four seconds after getting out of a vehicle is a legitimate law enforcement tactic.


      • Last November one of my students e-mailed me to say she was too upset to come to class after a twelve-year-old relative had been shot and killed by a police officer in a park while playing with a toy gun. The most painful moment in my twenty-nine years of teaching.


  2. I’d give a bit more slack to the 911 dispatcher. I can imagine myself on that end of the phone, thinking, “Holy shit — this guy’s probably unhinged. At the very least we should sent some cops out to talk to him… If only we still had legal grounds to do so.”


    • Feh. You’re right: I don’t know if the 911 dispatcher was patronizing or regretful when s/he spoke of the open-carry law in Colorado. I’ll report more if I hear a tape of that 911 call & let you all be the judge.

      It’s just sickening that people can be gunned down on a lovely, warm Saturday morning while sitting on their porch, or enjoying a morning bike ride, AFTER someone else had called in a report about a disturbing individual.


      • Too true. Honestly, whether the 911 operator is patronizing, regretful, or simply politely stoic, I think the tape ought to be played back-to-back with the police audio, so the general public realizes how f-ed up open carry can make things.

        Of course, it’s only a little more f-ed up than the gun laws in general.


  3. A couple of weeks ago I attended one of my university’s active shooter training sessions. It was held a couple of weeks after the shootings in Oregon at the community college and was very well attended. Indeed, the school added a couple of extra sessions since they had proven timely and popular. The university president was at the same session I attended.

    A few things stood out from session. First, the best thing you can do when someone starts shooting is to run away. The second best thing you can do is lock or barricade the classroom or office door and hide with the lights out. The last option was to confront the shooter by tackling him and throwing things at them. People who remained passive were the most likely to be killed. The training did not say to go out and get a concealed weapons permit, interestingly enough. I think the reason is that the cops are trained to shoot dead anyone they find holding a gun during an active shooter situation. So when your crazy neighbor is on his front porch with his gun, run away.

    Second, the police are at from between nine and fifteen minutes away from being on our campus once the shooting starts. The shooter will kill two or three people a minute until someone stops them. The police rarely arrive in time to stop the shooter. Usually, someone will stop the shooter before the cops show up, or he will kill himself once the police arrive in the parking lot. The police will not rescue anyone in an active shooter situation. We are on our own.

    Third, the police and FBI say that there is no profile for an active shooter. I think that they are using the term “profile” in a very narrow psychological tracking sense. Clearly, as Historiann points out above, and as the rest of us have noticed, there are some sociological facts about these shooters that smack us in the face every day.

    The whole training left me feeling fairly disillusioned. On the one hand I feel like it was worth my time and I recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity. I feel like I have a better sense of what to do and what to expect if there is a shooting at my school. On the other hand, I feel betrayed by our political leaders and the Second Amendment aPologists. We do not have to live with these insane gun laws to keep with the principle of the second amendment. Some day these laws will have to change. The thing that will appall our grand children and great grand children is how long it took.


    • This looks like the advice that Notorious, Ph.D. passed along a few weeks ago in the video, “Run, Hide, Fight:”

      Yes, as Bardiac says above: it’s just horrifying. Thanks, no-nutz-pols, for turning schools and universities into shooting ranges!

      Funny (or, rather LOLsob) and true story: Shortly after the Virginia Tech shooting, someone called in to report that s/he saw a man walking into the building where the History department resides and carrying a rifle. We got emails and campus alerts telling us to shelter in place, take cover, etc.–until they figured out it was one of my colleagues carrying a Civil War-era rifle to show to his class. Now, I suppose that alert observer would be told that carrying guns anywhere, anytime at CSU is all nice’n’legal.

      I wouldn’t advise any of our students or colleagues to test this theory, especially no our African American or Latino students and colleagues.


    • Yep — we recently had a similar training, with it sounds like the identical “Run, Hide, or Fight” video that you saw. I left feeling both a little scared and enraged at how obscene it is that such trainings are necessary for colleges and universities.


    • And the article to which you linked is very confusing. Colorado has an open carry law, but openly carrying a firearm is illegal in Denver? I really hate it when journalists muddy the water like this, leaving the reader to go googling looking for clarification.


    • These sentences from the article really stuck out to me:

      “Is this person exercising their rights or about to start a very serious situation in which someone is going to be killed?” said Jacki Kelley, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. “We just don’t know the difference.”

      Of course, with the way that gun rights are currently understood in Colorado, the answer could be *both*. Until he started shooting he’d done nothing illegal, even though there were signs that he might be just about to.


      • I don’t think people have the right to frighten their neighbors and fellow citizens. If someone is frightened by another person’s behavior, the police should check out the situation. The police respond all of the time to calls about distressed and possibly mentally ill people all the time–but apparently, in Colorado Springs, all you need to do to inoculate yourself against police observation or interrogation is to pick up a gun.

        The presence of an openly-brandished gun does not cancel out all other concerns the public might have with an individual. Indeed, I would think they’d be amplified, and police and 911 dispatchers must listen.


      • (Responding to Historiann’s reply)

        I’m really torn about this. I disagree that the police should have to respond to all citizens’ concerns about “suspicious” or “threatening” behavior – because as the coverage of various community internet forums’ has shown, in practice that often means white people being threatened by a black neighbor they don’t recognize going out for a run / walking the dog / standing on the street.

        The difference with someone waving a gun around, of course, is that the gun is empirically dangerous, and that brandishing a weapon causes very reasonable concern. (And at least some open carry activists like the concern, hence ridiculous arguments about an armed society being a polite society etc that are predicated on the idea the that the threat of violence is necessary to keep others’ in line.) But because many people, quite reasonably, feel concerned at seeing guns around, there are many calls to the police about a behavior that is perfectly legal. Of course if somebody is standing on the ledge of a building, the fact they’re holding a gun should ensure an even quicker police response. But what if the main cause for concern and what prompts the 911 call is that *somebody’s walking around carrying a gun?* Should police respond to all such reports?

        I’d argue that one of the main problems of open carry is that it takes what is a potential indicator of imminent lethal violence and makes it legal, requiring either a lot of police resources to check out each reported incident, or some exceptionally good training for the public and for emergency dispatchers about what specifically to look out for, or a social acceptance that sometimes innocent people will die because of this law.


      • Rachel–I think we agree more than we disagree. But if someone sees someone brandishing a weapon AND is legitimately frightened, I think it’s reasonable for the police to check it out. As you note, these interactions are always inflected by race & class. I don’t have a problem with the police officer who responded to the report of Tamir Rice in a Cleveland park with what appeared to be a weapon, although that caller said that she thought it was probably a toy. (And Ohio does not have an Open Carry law, so far as I know.)

        The Denver Post reports this morning that the 911 caller in Colorado Springs not only noted that the perp had a rifle BUT ALSO a handgun, AND fuel cans–a collection of materials for which there are few, if any, legitimate purposes on a sunny Saturday morning in downtown Colorado Springs. All of these details were reported to 911, but the call was put down as a second-priority issue, and 10 minutes later 3 people were dead.

        You can hear the raw 911 call at the link above.


      • Minor correction: Ohio is open carry, though a license is required to have a firearm in a motor vehicle. This rule preempts all local laws, whereas Colorado’s open carry law does not preempt the ban on open carry in Denver.


  4. So, the lesson from Colorado would just be, don’t even bother to say the guy has a gun… just say the guy has a bomb, the guy has a machete, the guy has a gasoline can in one hand and a torch in the other, whatever it is that is not permissible to carry, and if there’s a problem later, just say you must have been mistaken. Lying to the state seems like a noble thing here. The Supreme Court bald-faced lied from the bench when the issue came before the Court.


    • Another brilliant solution to an idiotic problem!

      I still think saying that it’s an African American or Latino guy openly carrying would bring a very speedy response.


  5. There’s a fair amount of right-wing commentary out there that says college professors should be armed; that’s the way to stop campus shooters. First of all, as a college professor, don’t I get a say in the matter? I’m pretty busy already. Do I really have to make weekly visits to the shooting range (or however often is recommended–maybe it’s twice weekly) to keep my skills up? And guns are expensive. I teach at a state university. Is the state going to issue me a gun? Or is this another out-of-pocket expense I’m expected to cover in my ongoing personal subsidy of state education? Also, my grandmother was a Quaker. Maybe I am too. Does my first amendment right of religious freedom cave to the second amendment “right” of some nut job? I put “right” in quotation marks because I don’t see anyone signing up for quarterly militia musters, where they have demonstrate that their weapons are in good repair, and that they know how to drill and follow orders. OK, rant over.


    • No, we don’t get a choice. Our gutless and nutless political leaders have decided that the Second Amendment trumps all the others, so we have no religious or personal liberties outside of carrying a gun for your personal protection.

      Welcome to the conservatarian paradise that is the modern United States.


  6. The Second Amendment so far as I can see, is the only one that even hints at why it exists or needs to exist. And that hint, about a well-regulated militia, (regulation being a great bête noir of the right wing generally and of the “packing” class in particular) would give any court not addled or bought all the evidence it needs to uphold the sensible–or even un-sensible–regulation of fire arms possession and usage. And given that the regulatory power inheres in the political branches, even its badly-informed exercise thereby would hardly merit constitutional restraint or reproval by the mandarin branch. I would like to see each of the twenty six other amendments re-amended to insert the phrase “well-regulated” into them somewhere. We might even come up with some model re-amendments here.


  7. Pingback: Paul Harvey on the recent Colorado Springs mass-murder: “We will all have another chance to pay obeisance to the God that we are all compelled, willingly or not, to worship.” | Historiann

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