Waco, Columbine, Aurora and Newtown: 20 years and 10 mass shootings that didn’t change America
Mass shootings remain an almost exclusively American phenomenon among advanced countries. These 10 rocked the country and galvanized many in favor of gun control – so why has so little of it followed?
When: April 19, 1993
What happened: Six cult members and four federal agents were killed in a gun battle during a raid on the headquarters of the Branch Davidian sect at the end of a nearly two-month siege. The cult members had been stockpiling weapons.
What the president [Bill Clinton] said: “ I am deeply saddened by the loss of life in Waco today. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of David Koresh’s victims. The law enforcement agencies involved in the Waco siege recommended the course of action pursued today. The attorney general informed me of their analysis and judgment and recommended that we proceed with today’s action given the risks of maintaining the previous policy indefinitely. I told the attorney general to do what she thought was right, and I stand by that decision.”
What the pro-gun lobby said: “ Waco was supposed to be a way for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) and the Clinton administration to prove the need for a ban on so-called assault weapons … So an incident had to be encouraged to happen.” – Texas congressman Steve Stockman, writing in Guns & Ammo magazine
What happened: President Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which included a 10-year federal assault weapons ban.
When: April 20, 1999
What happened: Twelve students and one teacher were killed when seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold launched an assault on their high school in Columbine, Colorado. Both teens died by suicide before being apprehended.
What the president [Bill Clinton] said: “ I want to make a plea to everybody who is waiting for the next deer season in my home state to think about this in terms of what are reasonable obligations to the larger community of America. Do we know for absolutely certain, if we’d had [the gun control legislation] I’m going to propose here, that none of these schools violent things would have happened? No.
“But we do know one thing for certain. We know there would have been fewer of them and there would have been fewer kids killed in the last several years in America. We know that for certain.”
What the pro-gun lobby said: In the wake of the Columbine shooting the NRA [National Rifle Association] launched its “Be Reasonable” campaign to demonstrate it wasn’t deaf to renewed calls for gun control.
In an advert, it said : “We think it’s reasonable to provide for instant checks at gun shows just like at gun stores and pawn shops. But what’s unreasonable is how the proposed Lautenberg legislation ignores the 250,000 prohibited people, like felons, who’ve walked away from gun stores – instead of being prosecuted for a federal felony for trying to buy a gun.”
What happened: The Senate version of the legislation was considered too strong for Republicans, and the House version was considered too weak by Democrats. President Clinton called it “a bill plainly ghostwritten by the NRA”, and the bill failed .
When: April 16, 2007
What happened: Thirty-two were killed and another 17 wounded when Virginia Tech senior Seung-Hui Cho executed two separate attacks on the campus before committing suicide.
What the president [George W Bush] said: “Across the town of Blacksburg and in towns all across America, houses of worship from every faith have opened their doors and have lifted you up in prayer. People who have never met you are praying for you; they’re praying for your friends who have fallen and who are injured. There’s a power in these prayers, real power. In times like this, we can find comfort in the grace and guidance of a loving God. As the Scriptures tell us: ‘Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”
What the pro-gun lobby said: “ Already spineless gun control advocates are squawking like chickens with their tiny-brained heads chopped off, making political hay over this most recent, devastating Virginia Tech massacre, when in fact it is their own forced gun-free zone policy that enabled the unchallenged methodical murder of 32 people” – Pro-gun activist Ted Nugent
What happened: Congress passed , and George W Bush signed, the NICS Improvement Amendments Act, which requires states to automate their lists of convicted criminals and the mentally ill who are prohibited under a 1968 law from buying firearms, and to report those lists to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check.
When: November 5, 2009
What happened: Thirteen were killed and another 30 injured when Nidal Malik Hasan, a US army major and psychiatrist, began shooting at the Fort Hood military base. Hasan was convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder, and is currently on death row.
What the president [Barack Obama] said: “We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely as we will see that he pays for his crimes. We’re a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses. And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember Lincoln’s words, and always pray to be on the side of God. We’re a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal.”
What the pro-gun lobby said: “Shouldn’t an army base be the last place where a terrorist should be able to shoot at people uninterrupted for 10 minutes? After all, an army base is filled with soldiers who carry guns, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case. Beginning in March 1993, under the Clinton administration, the army forbids military personnel from carrying their own personal firearms and mandates that ‘a credible and specific threat against [Department of the Army] personnel [exist] in that region’ before military personnel ‘may be authorized to carry firearms for personal protection’. Indeed, most military bases have relatively few military police as they are in heavy demand to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.” – Opinion piece by Dr John R Lott Jr for Fox News
What happened: The debate in the wake of the Fort Hood shooting rarely centered around gun control, but rather whether the act was an incident of “workplace violence” as it was designated by the Department of Defense, or an act of Islamist terrorism .
When: January 8, 2011
What happened: Six people were killed and 13 others were injured, including Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, when Jared Loughner pulled out a pistol at a town hall event Giffords was holding and began firing. Loughner pleaded guilty to 19 charges of murder and attempted murder, and is now serving a life sentence without parole.
What the president [Barack Obama] said: “We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future. But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. That we cannot do.
“As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together …
“If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate – as it should – let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle.”
What the pro-gun lobby said: The official NRA Twitter account tweeted a statement sarcastically attributed to Giffords which read : “Gabby Giffords: Everyone Should Have to Pass Background Check My Attacker Passed”.
What happened: New York congressman Peter King proposed legislation banning the carrying of firearms within 1,000ft of certain government officials. New York congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy proposed federal legislation restricting the sale of high-capacity magazines to civilians. Neither proposal ever came to a vote .
When: July 20, 2012
What happened: During a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises in a Colorado cinema, James Holmes set off teargas canisters and began firing into the crowd, killing 12 people and injuring 70.
What the president [Barack Obama] said: “Now, even as we learn how this happened and who’s responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It’s beyond reason. But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living.”
What the pro-gun lobby said: The NRA largely avoided comment after the Aurora shooting, but in late 2013 the NRA Institute for Legal Action took aim at post-Aurora legislation when a shooting occurred at Arapahoe high school in Centennial, Colorado.
An article said: “Gun-control laws didn’t stop a possible massacre at Arapahoe High School. A good guy with a gun stopped the rampage and in doing so almost certainly prevented much greater harm. For that, at least, we all can be thankful.”
When: December 14, 2012
What happened: Gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 elementary school students and six school faculty members in an assault on Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, where Lanza’s mother had worked. Lanza also shot and killed his mother before the attack, and killed himself before being apprehended by authorities.
What the president [Barack Obama] said: “As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago – these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
“This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter and we’ll tell them that we love them, and we’ll remind each other how deeply we love one another. But there are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight. And they need all of us right now. In the hard days to come, that community needs us to be at our best as Americans. And I will do everything in my power as president to help.”
What the pro-gun lobby said: “You know, five years ago, after the Virginia Tech tragedy, when I said we should put armed security in every school, the media called me crazy,” NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre said , adding “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.
What happened: The Manchin-Toomey bill, which would would have required criminal and mental health background checks for advertised sales of guns, including at gun shows and online, failed in Congress.
Washington (DC) navy yard
When: September 16, 2013
What happened: Twelve people were killed and another three injured when gunman Aaron Alexis carried out an attack at the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters at the navy yard. He was killed by police.
What the president [Barack Obama] said: “And so, once again, we remember our fellow Americans who were just going about their day doing their jobs, doing what they loved …
“In the United Kingdom, in Australia, when just a single mass shooting occurred in those countries, they understood that there was nothing ordinary about this kind of carnage. They endured great heartbreak, but they also mobilized and they changed, and mass shootings became a great rarity.
“And yet, here in the United States, after the round-of-clock coverage on cable news, after the heartbreaking interviews with families, after all the speeches and all the punditry and all the commentary, nothing happens …
“No other advanced nation endures this kind of violence – none.”
What the pro-gun lobby said: “There weren’t enough good guys with guns … When the good guys with guns got there it stopped,” NRA president Wayne LaPierre said .
What happened: Defense secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a review of security standards on defense bases, eventually announcing a handful of procedural changes designed to make bases more secure.
When: June 17, 2015
What happened: Nine people, including South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney, were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, where Pinckney was a pastor. The shooter, Dylan Roof, was captured in North Carolina the following day and awaiting prosecution.
What the president [Barack Obama] said : “But let’s be clear: at some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.
“The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked. And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.”
What the pro-gun lobby said: “Eight of his church members, who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church, are dead … Innocent people died because of his political position on the issue.” Charles Cotton, NRA board member, said .
What happened: A month after the shooting President Obama admitted that failure to pass “commonsense gun safety laws” in the US was the greatest frustration of his presidency.
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