Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Open-carry gun law has deadly consequences

Dozens of neighbors and residents from the community surrounding Saturday’s shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo., attend a candlelight vigil on Shocks Run Trail on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.
Dozens of neighbors and residents from the community surrounding Saturday’s shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo., attend a candlelight vigil on Shocks Run Trail on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Gazette of Colorado Springs/AP

In Florida, legislation that would allow gunslingers to walk around with their Freudian obsessions on full display has been likened to biblical scripture.

Our state needs open carry, Rep. Matt Gaetz said last month in Tallahassee, because it “vindicates and restores rights that have been granted not by government but by God.”

Colorado, after yet another shooting spree on Oct. 31, has provided a rather different kind of discourse that shows the ungodly consequences of the kind of measure Gaetz finds so sacrosanct.

It came in an exchange that Saturday morning between a Colorado Springs woman named Naomi Bettis and the 911 operator who took her call. Bettis described “a guy with like two cans of gasoline and a big rifle.” He was walking around her neighborhood. She could see him from her window: “I’m scared to death.”

The 911 operator agreed that “having those two gas cans does seem pretty suspicious,” yet she decided not to elevate the response to the highest priority level.

She explained, “Well, it’s an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him or walking around with it.”

After the incident, the Colorado Springs police department released a department training document, explaining, “The mere act of openly carrying a gun in a non-threatening manner is not automatically to be considered suspicious behavior. Therefore, if we get a call from a citizen about a person who has a firearm in plain sight and they are not acting in a suspicious manner, they have not brandished it, discharged it, or violated any of the previous conditions, CSPD will not respond.”

The police department’s hesitance to intervene in such situations might have been exacerbated when Colorado Springs settled a lawsuit filed by a man who had been arrested for openly displaying his 40-caliber pistol in a city park during a gay pride event on July 21, 2012, one day after the Aurora, Colorado, theater massacre.

Ten minutes after Naomi Bettis’ initial 911 call, however, priorities changed. She phoned again. “The guy came back. He fired the gun at somebody, and he is lying in the street dead. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”

More shots were fired. Noah Harpham, 33, armed with an AR-15 assault rife, a .357-caliber revolver and a 9mm semi automatic pistol — all legally purchased — was on one of those random shooting sprees that have become sickeningly familiar in the only industrialized nation that tolerates an unfettered gun culture.

Harpham, who had posted crazed blog entries about his father and Satan shortly before the shootings, killed three strangers before police finally arrived. When Harpham refused to surrender, he was killed by the officers.

Obviously, open-carry legislation impeded common sense policing in Colorado. No wonder the Florida Fraternal Order of Police and the Florida Sheriffs Association are opposed to such a law.

But Matt Gaetz and his gun-rights allies in the Legislature answer to a higher power. That may be God. It may be the NRA.

In Florida, it’s hard to tell the difference.

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