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May 15, 2021

A watershed year of violence

The Christmas Eve ambush of volunteer firefighters in Webster, N.Y., adds another dark dimension to the national debate over guns, mental health and the role of government in protecting citizens. In addition to defenseless children and teachers, now selfless firefighters have become victims of an armed attack. Will the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre now call for training and arming every firefighter in the land?
The ambush was clearly the act of a twisted mind. Sixty-two-year-old William Spengler set his home on fire — with his sister in it — and then gunned down the first firefighters to arrive on the scene. Two died and two more were critically injured. The toll might have been on the scale of a massacre again if not for a police officer who arrived quickly and exchanged gunfire with Spengler. The shooter ultimately shot himself in the head.
We may never know what triggered Spengler, convicted of manslaughter decades ago in the hammer slaying of his grandmother. But a rambling note found near his body included a line that left no doubt of his intentions: “I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down, and do what I like doing best, killing people.”
The volunteer firefighters he targeted were public servants who rushed out into the predawn of Christmas Eve to fight a fire and protect whoever might be home. As is often the case with such volunteers, the two who died were also public servants professionally — one a police lieutenant, the other a 911 dispatcher. They trusted that someone needed their help and responded without hesitation.
Spengler may have gunned them down with the same type of weapon used in the Newtown, Conn., school shootings — a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle. He also had a shotgun and a revolver, but authorities say the range from which he killed the firefighters suggests he was using the semi-automatic rifle.
Cerberus Capital Management, the investment firm that owns Madison, N.C.-based Bushmaster and other gun manufacturers in the Freedom Group, announced it would sell off the group after the Newtown shootings. The school massacre was “a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level.”
Indeed, 2012 has turned into a watershed year, one that is opening everyone’s eyes to the dangerous and all-to-frequent combination of mental instability and high-powered weaponry. The problem is too large to solve by simply arming more people with guns.

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