The details of the mass shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo. are simply awful. On a fall afternoon, a white male in the Rocky Mountain city of 445,000 people carrying a semi-automatic rifle as well as a gas can began firing at innocent civilians. He killed three people, including a decorated Army veteran; friends noted the irony that the victim had survived duty in Iraq only to be gunned down on the streets of what Money magazine once called "The Best Place To Live" in America. The gunman then turned his weaponry on law-enforcement, engaging on a gun battle with cops while the three people that he murdered lay dying.
Yes, Friday's deadly rampage at a Planned Parenthood was horrific. But actually I was talking about a completely different mass shooting on Colorado Springs. It's easy to get confused these days, unfortunately. The first mass shooting of three random people also happened less than a month ago, on Halloween. Yes, the 42nd biggest city in America has experienced two mass shootings of random innocent citizens in just 27 days.
The first triple homicide was carried out by 33-year-old Noah Harpham -- two days after a rambling blog post about his Christian religion, his struggles with substance abuse and "mind control." Carrying a military-style rifle and a pistol, he gunned down the first person he saw, the three-tour, 35-year-old Iraq war veteran Andrew Alan Myers, who was out for a Saturday bike ride and had pleaded with the gunman -- "Don't shoot me! Don't shoot me!" Then Harpham killed two women at a home for substance abuse victims -- Jennifer Michelle Vasquez, 42, and Christina Rose Baccus-Gallela, 34 -- before he was ultimately killed in that gun fight with the cops.
A tragic and pretty remarkable story -- actually, unfortunately, not remarkable enough for America in 2015. The 10/31 killing spree by an armed man firing on random citizens pleading for their lives in an all-American Heartland community was barely a blip on America's news radar screen. This Friday was a little different. For one thing, the standoff unfolded for hours on a traditionally slow news day. And, more importantly, the targeting of a Planned Parenthood site had deep political ramifications, in a year in which the women's health organization has been targeted with deceptively edited videos then amplified by presidential candidates seeking votes on the far right.
But in the first Colorado Springs mass shooting -- let's not try to get them confused, OK? -- there was also a bizarre twist. It came out later that police had had an opportunity to respond to Harpham a full 10 minutes before his killing spree began -- when a woman called 911 and said it looked suspicious that a man was walking around her neighborhood with a semi-automatic and a can of gasoline.
"Well, it is an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him or walking around with it," the 911 operator said. "But of course, having those gas cans, it does seem pretty suspicious. So we're going to keep the call going for that."
When Myers begged for his life, the cops were still nowhere in sight. They would not respond until the first shots were fired and the killing spree was already under way. The 911 officer was certainly technically correct -- Colorado is one of 31 states that allow largely unfettered open carrying of firearms in public (among the few states that ban the practices, unexpectedly, are Texas and Florida.) But carrying a gasoline can in public is apparently more troubled than a high-powered firearm. Common sense, right?
As local controversy swirled and the group Colorado Ceasefire called for an open-carry ban, the mayor of Colorado Springs told the local newspaper has has "no appetite" for changing the law. "What your open carry laws are don't dictate what your violent crime rate is," Mayor John Suthers said.
Not surprising, since Colorado has rarely shown much "appetite" for saner gun laws, despite some of most horrific killing sprees of the modern era, including the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and the 2012 Aurora movie theatre shooting that claimed 12 lives. In the wake of the shootings in Aurora and Newtown, Conn., the president of the Colorado Senate, John Morse -- who also happens to be from Colorado Springs -- did push through significant gun-safety measures that would require background checks for private gun sales and limit the number of lethal rounds in a magazine to 15. Angry voters forced Morse, and a colleague, out in a recall election, chilling any future moves toward gun sanity.
In that climate, you have to wonder what made a monster (or, as the New York Times briefly called him, a "gentle loner") named Robert Lewis Dear think he could get away with walking into a Planned Parenthood clinic openly carrying a long gun (and a device that may have been a propane tank) in a place like Colorado Springs?
In this new incident, the news media -- especially, CNN which invited a GOP congressman on the air to bash Planned Parenthood while a killer was still holed inside its clinic -- and a certain breed of politician seemed in a race to see who could react more bizarrely. One of the victims on Friday, in a tragic echo of the first killing spree, was also an Iraq War veteran, Ke'Arre Stewart, and another victim was an on-duty law enforcement officer, Garrett Swasey from the University of Colorado police force.
Yet the Republican candidates who've been (understandably) quick to tweet their support or sympathy for other officers injured or killed in the line of duty were stunningly silent. Only one Republican candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (and good for him) tweeted his outrage with the murder of Officer Swasey. These are the same people who were so quick to denounce, and call for action on, Syrian refugees, even though Middle Eastern refugees have killed far fewer Americans (zero, to be exact) than Robert Lewis Dear (3). Are the Republicans who want to be the next American president so afraid of their right-wing base that they can't show basic humanity toward a slain officer and his loved ones...because the crime scene was a Planned Parenthood clinic? That's beyond shameful.
And while we're at...when are going to get real about what is or isn't "terrorism" in America? What happened on Friday -- as a growing mound of evidence makes clear -- was a chilling case of political terrorism, intended to frighten and intimidate women from exercising their constitutionally protected rights to health care including abortion. But then, innocent people have also been slaughtered in Colorado for going to high school, for trying to see a Batman movie on a Friday night, or for riding their bike on an autumn Saturday. Isn't that -- and our utter fear and paralysis to even try to do anything to stop the gun carnage -- a sign that we've already been terrorized in the United States.
I've never been to Colorado Springs, although I've marveled at the pictures I've seen of its Rocky Mountain vista, miles of bike trails and big blue sky. It may very well be "the best place to live." But as the cruel winds of November have shown, for people to fully enjoy its beauty we still need to do much, much better.