D.C.-Area Murderer Faces Passive Civilians

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D.C.-Area Murderer Faces Passive Civilians

by Ari Armstrong, October 19, 2002

Now even the Pentagon has joined the FBI, BATF, and local law enforcement in the hunt for the D.C.-area murderer. Yet, despite all this manpower, fire power, and technology, "the police just don't have a clue."

The full quote, offered by Northeastern University professor James Alan Fox to AP writer Deborah Hastings, is, "He likely plans in advance his escape route, and the police just don't have a clue" (October 16).

Hopefully, anytime now the police will indeed capture the murderer or murderers. And critics cannot expect enforcement officers to be omniscient. It's a tough case. It's such a tough case the police should do their best to involve the citizenry in solving it. Instead, some police, government officials, and political groups are encouraging passivity among the citizenry. "We're the professionals, we'll handle it," seems to be the attitude, even when it's obvious they can't handle it very well. The massive police presence has slowed -- but not stopped -- the murders.

Whether the murders are being carried out by terrorists foreign or domestic, it's clear the police haven't made much headway in the case.

It doesn't help, of course, that one eye-witness seems to have given the police bogus information. (Charges have been filed against that person.) How exasperating!

It's unclear how many people have seen the murderer in action. One murder was carried out across the street from a patrol officer, though apparently he didn't get a look at the perpetrator. Several people saw the murder on October 14. Stephen Manning of the AP reports October 18, "The [bogus] story began to unravel when police compared it to accounts from others who saw the fatal shooting Monday night of an FBI analyst in a store parking garage... Fairfax police Lt. Amy Lubas... said there were other witnesses to Monday's shooting outside the store in Falls Church, Va."

The obvious question is, What in the hell were these eye-witnesses doing? Just watching, apparently. No, I wasn't there, so it's difficult to get a good sense of exactly what happened and how events played out. Still, I have to wonder why NOBODY tried to run the perpetrator(s) off the road, block the exit with their car, or attempt to follow the perpetrator(s) down the road. Yes, those moves would have been risky. But letting the killer go virtually guarantees somebody else is going to die!

The D.C. area is one of the most disarmed regions in the nation. D.C. in particular suffers a horrendous murder rate. A reasonable theory is that too many people have succumbed to the attitude that personal defense is not their business. Let the police handle it. This is exactly the attitude that has overtaken England, where violent crime rates are soaring, including gun-related crimes, despite the gun bans in effect there.

Certainly more citizens should carry concealed handguns. True, if the murderer chooses to strike from a hidden location, it's less likely that an armed citizen would be able to confront the murderer. However, in a densely populated area, the chances of being seen are significant in any case.

Another move that should at least be debated is to call on the state militias to stand guard. I'm sure thousands of people would volunteer to stand watch in public areas, and private businesses would be willing to pay to have a private gun owner keep watch, rifle in hand. If the PC crowd thinks that unappealing, would they at least prefer it to continued murders?

Two Colorado Libertarians have indeed called for the renewal of the state militia to handle emergencies. See http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/10/militiars.html or http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/10/militiasg.html.

So did authorities encourage armed civilians to responsibly assist authorities? Of course not. Instead, as Liz Boch and Kory Dodd reported for Fox News on October 16, "[Maryland] Gov. Parris Glendening ordered a ban on outdoor shooting in four counties Tuesday in an effort to cut down on reports of gunshots that could distract police from their investigation of sniper killings in the area" (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,65845,00.html).

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens said, "We need to provide as much support for our officers as possible... It is important that there be no confusion at the sound of gunfire."

Yes, authorities want to make absolutely certain that the only sound of gunfire is caused by the murderer.

All this helps to prove a point Jeff Snyder makes in Nation of Cowards:

Crime is rampant because the law-abiding, each of us, condone it, excuse it, permit it, submit to it. We permit and encourage it because we do not fight back, immediately, then and there, where it happens. Crime is not rampant because we do not have enough prisons, because judges and prosecutors are too soft, because the police are hamstrung with absurd technicalities. The defect is there, in our character. We are a nation of cowards and shirkers.

* * * * *

[Section added October 23.]

Brian Whalen wrote via e-mail, "While I agree with your article... on the whole, it should be noted that only one of the shootings was withing the limits DC, where guns are banned. Maryland does make you submit a 'fingerprint' of handguns but has little restriction on rifles outside of the normal Brady Bill et.al. federal bills."

Whalen's comment is true and well-noted. It is also true, however, that, while both Maryland and Virginia allow concealed carry, both states restrict the practice. Guns don't have to be banned outright to be rendered useless for self-defense.

Sam Smith wrote an October 17 story for the New York Post titled, "Besieged Locals Take Up Arms of their Own." It begins, "After two weeks of terror at the hands of the psycho sniper, residents of Virginia's suburbs are taking matters - and guns - into their own hands. In Spotsylvania, Stafford, Prince William and Fairfax counties - all at or near sniper attacks - officials report up to a 500 percent increase in applications for concealed-weapons permits, and gun sales are up nearly as much."

The good news is that many residents are indeed looking to personal responsibility as a way to confront violent criminals.

The bad news is that, as Smith reports, "The increase in demand means the application process at the courts takes longer and anxious customers are being forced to wait up to six weeks to get their permit - rather than the typical three-week checking period."

Perhaps the authorities can convince the murderer to stop killing people for six weeks until the permits for self-defense are processed.

* * * * *

In an October 16 letter to the Denver Post, A. Lynn Buschoff, in apparent seriousness, asks, "What's scarier, Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction or the gun owner next door?" Well, the "gun owner next door" helps deter crime, so Buschoff's question can only be motivated by the most ignorant hysteria.

Oddly, Buschoff cites the D.C.-area murders as a reason to criticize gun ownership: "Where is the NRA when you need them? In the past, they have tried to explain that Americans are safer when they have guns to protect themselves. I wonder how many of the shooting victims in Maryland were gun owners, and if they were, how did it protect them? Even if they had been packing Uzis, would any of them be alive today?"

Similarly, Ron Kampeas wrote an October 9 article for the AP titled, "Advocates Want Gun 'Fingerprinting'": "An unseen sniper shooting from a distance undermines the argument that people can prevent crime by owning firearms, said Nancy Hwa of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. 'This shows that carrying a gun doesn't make you safer,' she said."

So disarmament activists now point to murders in regions where the population has been largely disarmed, and use these murders as an argument for disarmament? Insanity!

This one unusual case does not somehow eliminate the hundreds of thousands of defensive gun uses in America every year. And, even if the victims might not have been able to save themselves in this particular case, an armed third party might have been able to stop the murderer and thus prevent further bloodshed.

The arguments put forward by the disarmament lobby in this case are so obviously intellectually dishonest, one has to wonder why the AP or the Denver Post treats them seriously. Below is a reply I sent to the Denver Post.

Hysterical bigotry won't stop crime

A. Lynn Buschhoff's blatantly bigoted letter compares the D.C.-area murderer to a typical American hunter. She then wonders whether the "gun owner next door" is "scarier" than "Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction."

Yet legal scholar Don Kates found that "Good Samaritans" who "rescued crime victims or arrested violent criminals... were two-and-half times more likely to be gun owners than nonowners." Criminologist Gary Kleck points out the overwhelming majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens, and "the problem of criminal gun violence is concentrated within a very small subset of guns and gun owners." (The same could be said of knife owners and car owners.)

Buschhoff notes no gun owner stopped the D.C.-area shooter. That's true, just as it's true that the murderer operated in one of the most disarmed regions of the nation. Regardless, this case is hardly typical, nor is one case a proper basis for public policy. For Kleck summarizes, "The best survey on defensive gun use frequency indicates 2.55 million defensive gun uses a year in the United States." [See the Kates/Kleck book Armed.]

* * * * *

Carla Howell, the Libertarian candidate for governor of Massachusetts, also called on an armed civilian population to deter crime. She told Michele Kurtz of the Boston Globe for an October 13 story, "We'd have a better chance of somebody taking this guy down before he does more damage... The police are doing everything they can, but they can't be everywhere... There's more chance of a private citizen seeing him in action than a cop... When private citizens arm themselves, we are all safer. We signal to the criminals that we will not be victims."

* * * * *

Even though I referred to "ballistic fingerprinting" in a recent article (http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/10/senselesscrimes.html), that's really not a very accurate term. A "fingerprint" of a person is unique and permanent. The only way to change a fingerprint is to burn or cut it off. But there are no such permanent ballistic markings. And of course the markings are transferable. Thus, I propose the term, "ballistic markings database."

At least Bush and other Republicans have taken a skeptical view of ballistic markings databases. Sandra Sobieraj wrote October 15 for the AP, "President Bush opposes the push for firearms 'fingerprinting' that has grown from the Washington-area sniper shootings, a spokesman said today, saying Bush is unconvinced of the technology's accuracy and is concerned about gun owners' privacy."

[Unfortunately, Bush has since climbed back on the fense and asked the ATF to "study" the matter, apparently so he can wait to read the polling data. Does anybody really wonder what the AFT's "study" will claim? "If only you give us more money..." 10-21]

Clarence Lovell sent out an e-mail October 17 that contained a letter to a Senator from Weldon Clark:

The so called "ballistic fingerprint" for firearms is a fraud perpetrated by organizations opposed to firearms and firearms owners. This concept is a lie.

I am an engineer involved in design of products (not firearms) for sale to the public. The metal parts in firearms manufacturing are made on mass production machinery. Each firing pin, barrel and other parts are nearly identical for a given make and model of firearm. If two individuals bought the same type of firearm produced at the same time and the firearms have a small amount of wear the likelihood of a police ballistic expert making a wrong identification of a firearm and its owner is there. Miscarriages of justice will occur.

The markings made by rifling on bullets can change with even a small amount of wear, use of a steel brush, or firing bullets with dirt on them. The marks made by a firing pin can be changed by polishing the pin tip or firing a cartridge with dirt on it. Polishing the chamber of the firearm will change the markings. Ammunition cartridge casings that are reloaded and fired in different guns will have marking from each firing and each firearm.

The state of Maryland has spent over 5 million dollars on a "ballistic finger" print system for handguns and they have yet to solve one crime.

Very truly yours,
Weldon H. Clark Jr.

* * * * *

Yes, ballistic testing can sometimes be useful for linking one crime to another, if a single gun was used in both crimes, brass or bullets are available from both crimes, and no effort was made to alter the ballistic markings.

But why is the ATF making such a big deal about such testing? It's as if they can't make a move until they conduct "ballistic testing," even though it's pretty obvious the various murders are linked.

An October 18 story from CNN.com, "Police seize white box truck with shell casing inside," contains a strange paragraph: "The caliber of the casing is unknown at this point. The casing and the truck are to be examined by forensics experts at an undisclosed location. The federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is expected to have results of ballistics testing on the shell casing no sooner than 9 a.m. Saturday."

What CNN should have written is, "The caliber of the casing has not yet been released by the ATF. Further ballistic testing may determine whether the brass casing was ejected from the same gun that was used in previous murders." After all, there's a very simple "ballistic test" to determine the caliber -- look at the stamp on the end of the brass.

* * * * *

In his October 19 column for the Rocky Mountain News, Mike Littwin writes,

To counter the NRA, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence will send you to Joe Vince, a former ATF official who helped invent the database system and who will tell you the White House is "misinformed" -- that the system has been tested and works, that criminals often use new guns, that cops have made many matches over the years. If it does work in enough cases, it seems just common sense to have the database.

The police obviously already have the ability to test the ballistics of bullets and brass (if available) from one crime scene and compare the data to ballistics available at other crime scenes. So that's not at issue.

But has a ballistic markings database that links new guns to their buyers ever, even once, helped to solve a crime? If so, then it shouldn't have been too difficult for Littwin to cite the example.

It simply does not follow, nor is it true, that because ballistics can occasionally link one crime scene to another, that a ballistic markings database for new guns (or all guns) would help to solve crimes. (See http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/10/senselesscrimes.html.)

By "often," Littwin really means "sometimes:" criminals sometimes use new guns. But if they steal the new guns, a ballistic markings database would do no good. If the criminal spends literally a few seconds to alter the markings, again the database would do no good.

Littwin writes as if criminals never alter their behavior to adapt to new laws. Sure, TODAY some criminals buy new guns and don't bother to alter the ballistic markings. But criminals would alter their behavior the second the database law was passed. The database would be ridiculously easy to beat.

What Littwin does not take into account in his "common nonsense" view is the massive waste of police resources involved in building and maintaining a database.

* * * * *

I was pleasantly surprised to read an October 14 story from the AP that paints sniper training in a positive light. The article, written by Allen Breed, was titled, "Real Snipers Don't Brag About Name."

It begins, "They look through a cylinder of glass and metal at a distant target, knowing they are about to snuff out a life. They don't brag about their kills over beer, nor do they overly brood about them. They take life only to save other lives. To them, the word 'sniper' is a badge of honor and a hallmark of skill. And to them, whoever has been terrorizing the Washington area for the last two weeks is not worthy of the name."

Former Marine sniper Neil Morris said, "I definitely know they're not snipers, because snipers don't take innocent life... It's the most sane, hardworking, dedicated group of people you'd ever meet in your life. And without us, there'd be a whole lot more harm in this world than there already is."

Eric Haney, another former military sniper, pointed out the murders took relatively close shots. Professionals "don't leave brass laying around, and they damn sure don't leave tarot cards."

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com