I have been waiting for this to happen. For years we have witnessed the carnage when innocents were mowed down at schools, colleges, shopping malls and post offices. The unarmed (disarmed?) were easy targets for crazed gunmen armed with grievances, weapons and ammunition.
Now someone has shot back, probably saving many lives. All of the gun-control laws that have been passed and are still being contemplated could not have had the affect of one armed, trained and law-abiding citizen on the scene like 42-year-old Jeanne Assam, a volunteer security guard at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. The gunman, 24-year-old Mathew Murray, had been expelled from the Youth With a Mission (YWAM) organization for health reasons, according to officials. Authorities say Murray vowed revenge in several Web postings, which copied abundantly from the manifesto written by Columbine High School killer Eric Harris before the 1999 school massacre.
In rants laced with profanity, Murray lashed out against Christians he said had “brought this on yourselves.” He wrote that Christians “are to blame for most of the problems in the world.” Does that qualify as a “hate crime”? Probably not as such designations are usually given only to “oppressed minorities.”
It is Assam and not the shooter who received — and deserves — most of the media attention and praise. Calm and collected at a news conference, Assam detailed her movements and decision-making after hearing shots in the parking lot outside the church. She was especially attentive to possible danger after learning of the earlier shooting during which two people were killed at the YWAM facility several miles away. After hearing shots in the church parking lot, Assam said she walked about 100 yards through a hallway, hid herself and when Murray walked in, emerged from hiding and confronted him. “I was just asking God, bottom line, this is all you,” she said. “It was so loud. … It was scary. But God was with me. I asked him to be with me. And he never left my side.”
Assam is a former Minneapolis police officer who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon. She said she had been praying about what to do with her life and had volunteered to help with security at the 10,000-member church. She said, “I wasn’t going to wait for him to do other damage. I knew what I had to do.”
The El Paso County Coroner’s Office has since determined that Murray died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But it doesn’t matter. With at least five guns, all that ammunition and more weapons in the car, according to police, Assam’s presence stopped Murray from killing and wounding more people inside the church, which appeared to be his intent.
Church Pastor Brady Boyd said he has a 15- to 20-member security staff because “that’s the reality of our world. I don’t think any of us grew up in churches where that was a reality, but today it is.”
Killers — ones with mental disorders, or terrorists — look for places with large gatherings to amplify their acts. That’s why in recent years they have selected targets ranging from the World Trade Center, to Columbine High School, to shopping malls and now a megachurch. On the rare occasions when an armed person has been on the scene before police arrive, such acts have been stopped before further damage could be done. When no armed person has been present, by the time the police show up the killing is usually over and the gunman has shot himself.
The point is that gun laws will not deter criminals with evil intent and police can’t be everywhere they’re needed. But killers can be stopped by law-abiding citizens with guns. As the Supreme Court considers its ruling on whether the strict gun laws in the District of Columbia are constitutional, it might remember Jeanne Assam and her courageous, proper and for now legal response to a lawless act. Though four were killed at the two locations and several others wounded, many more owe their lives to Assam, who should be the new poster woman for those who wish to preserve the right to keep and bear arms.