Guns and Sunday School

Sometimes, even decent people need to shoot to kill, especially in defense of themselves or others. After a pair of shooting rampages in Colorado left five people dead this weekend, we must realize how much worse this could have been had a church security guard not been there to shoot back.

Like many Americans who came to age in the suburbs and leafy college towns, my exposure to gun violence was almost exclusively to newspaper reports of random attacks in distant places.  But one awful day, as a 19-year old aspiring journalist, I grabbed a pad of paper and a pen as I headed off to cover the Columbine High School shootings. Two years before the attacks, Columbine had been just another one of my high school rivals.  After the attacks, however, it had become a symbol of the fragility of life.

At a Denver memorial the next day, I got a call from a family member who saw me on CNN holding a crying friend in my arms. The media had descended on Denver and any young person in tears became part of the story. Pundits debated the news value of giving so much coverage to the two deranged teenage killers.  The debate was never resolved; the sensationalist coverage still persists. 

Columbine was followed by one random attack after another, spaced months or years apart.  Most recently we mourn the lives lost in attacks on Virginia Tech and an Omaha shopping center.  

These attacks should serve as reminders that we need more law-abiding people armed — not fewer.  Gun control is not a deterrent to crazed gunmen. We can only mitigate their damage by shooting to kill when they attack. This weekend, gun violence struck Colorado once again — and again this time it came at the hands of a crazed gunman.  Four innocent victims lost their lives.

The first two killed were young missionaries-in-training at Youth With A Mission, a church dormitory located just two miles from my childhood home in Arvada, a Denver suburb.   They were gunned down just after midnight on Sunday. I know the site well. A family member had trained there before heading off to Africa. I passed the building on my way to school and briefly attended a few youth group meetings there.  

While not much is known about the lone gunman, investigators now believe that after he left Arvada, he traveled more than 70 miles to Colorado Springs, where a little more than 12 hours later, he again opened fire on the New Life Church.  This time someone was there to stop him. 

After the gunman got off about five shots and killed two teenage sisters, a courageous security guard shot back and killed the gunman. While we may never know how many lives could have been lost at the 10,000 person congregation, Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers told the Rocky Mountain News that the guard’s actions "saved many lives today," and that the tragedy "could have been much worse than it was."

Sometimes shooting to kill is the only way to stop the violence. This summer, while I spent an ordinary day at work just two blocks from the state Capitol, a man walked into the gold-domed building and began shooting.  Fortunately, he was killed by police before he could take a single life.  I dare not think of what could have happened had he been alive when he left the building.  He had parked his car on the street bordering the lot where I’d left mine. 

After a childhood in the suburbs, I craved the urban experience. At 22, I moved to Washington, D.C.  Living on a low-level congressional staff salary, I could only afford a tiny row house located off the District’s notorious H Street northeast corridor. Crack deals were commonplace, and while bars on the windows helped me sleep at night, nearby sirens became my alarm system. 

At a dinner party one night, attendees discussed life under the District’s strict gun ban, a law soon to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Of the dozen or so attendees, I was the only one who hadn’t had a gun put to my head, my house broken into, or my car stolen at a red light. In one weekend I’ll never forget, a colleague was held up at gunpoint just blocks from his house, his car was stolen the next day, the neighborhood laundry mat was robbed, and a favorite local restaurant was also victimized.

My DC memories are replicated in the minds of thousands of young Americans who, like myself, moved there with a dream of making our nation a better place.  Our joint experience proves one thing. We are most vulnerable to violence when only criminals are armed.

As the details of Colorado’s latest shootings become known, a few facts will remain certain and unchanged. Suicidal killers can — and will find — guns if they are determined to kill another person.   No amount of gun control will ever change this. We’ll all be a lot safer, however, if we can strike back quickly.

I never thought much about gun control until I became a mother. Suddenly — for good and for bad — my invincibility faded and life became so much more precious.  It saddens me to know my children will grow up in a world plagued with random violence. I pray  they will experience it only through watching cable news.  

In the meantime, I am part of a growing coalition of mothers who know firsthand that the best way to prevent more violence at the hands of crazed gunmen is by arming responsible people capable of fighting back.  Even when it means arming ourselves.