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Editorial: Stop providing the means to kill

Arizona Summer Wildcat
July 7, 1999
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The Sun set and the Sabbath had just begun as a group of Orthodox Jewish worshippers headed to synagogue. A stranger stepped out of a shiny blue Taurus. Soon, the staccato of gunfire shattered the night, bullets whizzing past one man's head.

The shooter had calmly approached a group of men and boys wearing traditional black hats and long black coats, aimed a pair of semiautomatic handguns and opened fire.

He got back into his car and slowly drove through the North Side neighborhood. He turned the corner, shooting two more men. A block south, two more. He drove on a few blocks, stopping three more times, all the time shooting from his car - shattering glass on the passenger side.

It took just 17 minutes before he struck again.

This time it was fatal.

The scene was a tranquil tree-lined street in north suburban Skokie, where Ricky Byrdsong, a 43-year old former University of Arizona and Northwestern University basketball coach, had been walking with his son and daughter, about a block from their home.

The 21-year-old suspected gunman, Nathaniel Smith, was found Sunday, 235 miles south of Chicago. By then he had injured one more black man, a graduate student of Taiwanese decent, killed a Korean doctoral student and would soon take his own life.

Smith had the words 'Sabbath Breaker' tattooed across his chest. A member of the white supremacist organization World Church of the Creator, Smith was no stranger to the distribution of hate literature in parts of Illinois and Indiana.

His dorm room walls were decked with racist posters. Last year, he spent the Fourth of July placing white supremacist leaflets onto car windshields.

There were signs that Smith was a little different.

But he was entitled to be different. He was even entitled to possess hate literature.

Trouble is, Americans have become so detached from each other and desensitized toward hatred that these warning signs are not provocative enough to warrant caution.

Schools are so fearful of parental complaints that they refuse to take action when a child demonstrates psychological problems.

And lawsuit-paralyzed cops flub investigations, letting people like Smith walk the streets, plotting a new attack with every step.

This homegrown nut had every right to free speech. He even had the right to despise Asians, blacks and Jews.

But he didn't have the right to bear arms.

According to James Baker, the chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, federal authorities should have arrested Smith for attempting to buy a gun despite a protective order.

But they didn't.

No surprise that the NRA was quick to place blame on someone else. As they lobby for increased rights for gun owners and condemn laws that restrict firearm possession, people like Smith aren't stopped from purchasing guns.

Even more outrageous, the government, the very body that should ideally protect its citizens by enforcing firearm restrictions, does not effectively execute the only legislation safeguarding innocent people from guns.

Congress fights for gun laws after incidents like these Midwest shootings and the Littleton, Colo. school massacre from happening, but nothing is done to uphold these principles. Without someone there taking preventative measures, they may as well be lobbying for Nathaniel Smith and so many other like him - something of which to be truly proud.