Regarding the second rampage killing at Fort Hood in less than five years, two emotions apply. Heartache, of course, for the dead and wounded, but also fury. Both will endure, but only the latter packs the power to create worthwhile change.
Just now, it seems the chain of command, beginning at the White House and extending through the Pentagon, learned worse than nothing from Nidal Malik Hasan’s murderous spree. Wednesday afternoon, Fort Hood remained the same sprawling encampment it was in November 2009, much of it devoted to life in most any mid-sized one-company town, with neighborhoods, schools, clinics, centers devoted to paper-pushing and a couple of museums.
The major difference, it seems, is the rule against carrying firearms on base are even more restrictive than it was when Hasan committed his 45 acts of workplace violence.
In short, with the exception of law enforcement and security personnel (both of which seem to exist in insufficient numbers; 15 minutes elapsed before Ivan Lopez was confronted, and promptly self-ended it), no one is authorized to carry a weapon inside the Fort Hood gates. Not no way, not no how.
This clampdown, ordered for all U.S. military bases by the Defense Department in February 1992, was written into Army policy in 1993. At Fort Hood, in the wake of Hasan, service personnel who own weapons must register them with their commanding officer and store them in a designated arms room, which helps explain how heroes who faced hostiles in Iraq and Afghanistan were reduced to scrambling for cover.
When will we learn?
Usually, the only random feature to rampage killings is the victims themselves. Except on those occasions when the shooter is settling a personal grudge (against an employer and coworkers, say, or a former lover and her family), the killed and wounded just happen to be at the wrong place at the worst possible moment.
Otherwise, as forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner told listeners of Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio program Thursday, planning plays a role, as does the explosive — if brief — notoriety of mass shooters. But fame eludes those who are dropped the instant they brandish weapons, and so the bad guys choose places unlikely to offer armed resistance.
It’s not like such locations are difficult to spot. They tend to advertise themselves with signs brashly declaring the area beyond to be “gun-free zones.” Which, as has been noted in this space before, they almost always are — law-abiding folks don’t want any trouble — until the perp shows up to seal his dark place in history.
How many times must “gun-free zones” be spattered with the blood of innocents, and how many times must we witness the stunned grief of loved ones, before the revelation at last dawns: Where the cunning psychopath is concerned, signs prohibiting guns are no more than the matador’s cape before the bull. It’s an invitation. At least the bull doesn’t know he’s not coming out alive.
No one should expect epiphanies from this White House. But this nightmare offers instruction for the Legislature, which even now is considering a bill to end the charade of no-guns-allowed signs as safety shields, at least in Florida’s schools.
Under the proposal, school districts could authorize specially trained military veterans and ex-law enforcement personnel to carry firearms on campus. Calm down. The idea isn’t to have armed faculty and staff engage in shootouts with crazed desperados; it’s to give predators (especially those who’ve plotted out when the resource officer goes to lunch, or to a far corner of campus for a smoke) one less soft target to address their grand homicide-suicide fantasies.
We have seen what rainbows full of unilateral disarmament produce. It’s time to try something new and serious.