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 semiautomatic 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
magazine once called "The Best Place to Live" in America. The gunman then turned his weaponry on law enforcement, engaging in a gunbattle with cops while the three people whom he shot lay dying.
Yes, Friday's deadly rampage at a Planned Parenthood was horrific. But actually I was talking about a completely different mass shooting in Colorado Springs. It's easy to get confused these days, unfortunately. The first mass shooting of three random people happened less than a month ago, on Halloween. Yes, the 42nd biggest city in America 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. Armed with 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 gunfight with the cops.
A tragic and pretty remarkable story - actually, unfortunately, not remarkable enough for America in 2015. The Oct. 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 important, 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 try not 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 9-1-1 and said it looked suspicious that a man was walking around her neighborhood with a semiautomatic 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 9-1-1 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 underway. The 9-1-1 officer was certainly technically correct - Colorado is one of 31 states that allow largely unfettered open carrying of firearms in public.
As local controversy swirled and the group Colorado Ceasefire called for an open-carry ban, the mayor of Colorado Springs told the local newspaper he 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 the most horrific killing sprees of the modern era, including the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and the 2012 Aurora movie theater 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.
When are we going to get real about what is or isn't "terrorism" in America? What happened 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.