Columns » Public Eye

Near-tragedy at the state Capitol


Was anyone really surprised when a man in a tuxedo showed up Monday at the state Capitol and, following what one eyewitness reported was a kneeling prayer on the marble floor in the foyer, walked into the governor's reception area announcing that he was the emperor and was there to take over state government?

Was anyone surprised when the man, later identified as Aaron Snyder, 32, then pulled out a gun, declared, "You're gonna pay for this, you assholes!" and was then shot dead by a state trooper?

Was anyone surprised with the report, about how his mother told police that Snyder had recently been diagnosed as delusional?

The only thing that surprised me was that this was the first time it had happened at the Colorado Capitol. Other than a man being stabbed in a Capitol bathroom in 1979, the "People's Building," as some like to euphemistically refer to it, has been relatively violence-free (though former state Sen. Charlie Duke did once claim that if you listen really hard, you could hear demons cackling in the ceiling).

Immediately after this week's shooting, Democratic leaders including Gov. Bill Ritter, Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald and Senate President Pro-Tem Peter Groff issued statements vowing to seek a balance, increasing security while also ensuring that Denver's fifth most-popular tourist destination will remain accessible.

In a country with 192 million privately-owned firearms, including 65 million handguns, where 39 percent of homes have at least one gun, a country that leads the world in firearms violence and where firearm homicides are the second-leading cause of death for males and females aged 10 to 24 such is the "balance" that has become commonplace.

Many "people's buildings" that is, buildings and facilities paid for with tax dollars, where public business is conducted have long required metal detectors and searches.

Going to court? Not until you clear security. Flying across the country to visit Aunt Dolly? Not until you take off your shoes and send them through X-ray.

Here in Colorado Springs, resident Don Ortega effectively chilled City Council proceedings several years ago when he decided to start bringing his shotgun to City Hall, laying the weapon across the chair next to him during meetings. After a few of these displays, council banned firearms from the building.

Just a couple of years ago, El Paso County employees were stunned when, under pressure from the Firearms Coalition, their bosses seriously considered lifting the gun ban in county buildings, to encourage people to roam around the treasurer's office, the DMV and other such public areas with their firearms.

And there is the classic story of how, in 1994, Security resident Francisco "Franco" Duran listened to radio talk-show host Chuck Baker talk on air for months about such things as the need to "cleanse" government, and for an "armed revolution," mimicking the "ka-ching, ka-ching" sound of a gun in action, and whose guests advocated armed marches on the nation's Capitol.

Duran drove to Washington and fired 30 shots at the White House with his semi-automatic rifle. Duran pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, his attorneys claiming he was a paranoid schizophrenic. Duran is now in the high-security federal prison down the road in Florence. He is eligible for parole in 2029.

These are the days when a college student in Virginia with a history of mental illness and easy access to a .22-caliber Walther P22 semi-automatic handgun and a 9 mm semi-automatic Glock 19 handgun can execute the deadliest shooting in the history of the United States. In a two-hour rampage, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people, including 27 fellow students and five professors, and wounded 25 more.

The Virginia Tech massacre happened just three months ago. And, at least in Colorado home of Columbine, site of the previous record (April 20, 1999) for the number killed in a school massacre hardly a public mention is made of the Blacksburg, Va., horrors of April 16.

No, the conversation this week centers on whether we are now required to ramp up security, and turn our People's Building into a fortress.

And you know what? We have only ourselves to blame.

Firearms facts

There are approximately 192 million privately owned firearms in the U.S. - 65 million of which are handguns.

Currently, an estimated 39 percent of households have a gun, while 24 percent have a handgun.

In 1998 alone, licensed firearms dealers sold an estimated 4.4 million guns, 1.7 million of which were handguns. Additionally, it is estimated that 1 to 3 million guns change hands in the secondary market each year, and many of these sales are not regulated.

In 2004, 29,569 people in the United States died from firearm-related deaths 11,624 (39 percent) of those were murdered; 16,750 (57 percent) were suicides; 649 (2.2 percent) were accidents; and in 235 (0.8 percent) the intent was unknown. In comparison, 33,651 Americans were killed in the Korean War and 58,193 Americans were killed in the Vietnam War.

For every firearm fatality in the United States in 2005, there were estimated to be more than two non-fatal firearm injuries.

In 2004, firearms were used to murder 56 people in Australia, 184 people in Canada, 73 people in England and Wales, 5 people in New Zealand, and 37 people in Sweden. In comparison, firearms were used to murder 11,344 people in the United States.

In 2005, there were only 143 justifiable homicides by private citizens using handguns in the United States.

In 2004, nearly 8 children and teenagers, ages 19 and under, were killed with guns everyday.

In 2004, firearm homicide was the second leading cause of injury death for men and women 10-24 years of age - second only to motor vehicle crashes.

In 2004, firearm homicide was the leading cause of death for black males ages 15-34.

From 1999 through 2004, an average of 916 children and teenagers took their own lives with guns each year.

Each year during 1993 through 1997, an average of 1,621 murderers who had not reached their 18th birthdays took someone's life with a gun.

For every time a gun is used in a home in a legally-justifiable shooting there are 22 criminal, unintentional, and suicide-related shootings.

The presence of a gun in the home triples the risk of homicide in the home.

The presence of a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide fivefold.

A study of all direct and indirect costs of gun violence including medical, lost wages, and security costs estimates that gun violence costs the nation $100 billion a year.

The average total cost of one gun crime can be as high as $1.79 million, including medical treatment and the prosecution and imprisonment of the shooter.

At least 80 percent of the economic costs of treating firearm injuries are paid for by taxpayer dollars.

Compiled by the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence. Updated April 17, 2007

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