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Jewish World Review Aug. 20, 1999/8 Elul , 5759

Larry Elder

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The Lesson of the L.A. Shooting -- Be Prepared! -- SELF-DEFENSE WORKS. Laws don't matter if authorities don't do their jobs.

These are the two most profound lessons learned from the recent shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, a shooting that resulted in five wounded. The alleged gunman, Buford O'Neal Furrow, a member of the white supremacist group Aryan Nation, also admitted killing a Filipino letter carrier.

The suspect allegedly cased and rejected the three most visible Jewish L.A. "targets" -- the University of Judaism, the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the Skirball Cultural Center, a museum on Jewish culture. Why? Too much security.

What about more anti-gun laws? The "guns-kill-people" crowd call for more gun regulation, from registration and banning the sale of handguns, to their confiscation. But, people who live in the real world know bad guys abound, and therefore, take measures to minimize tragedy. The gunman apparently planned the crime for many months. So lengthening the waiting period for purchasing a firearm would not have prevented the tragedy.

James Q. Wilson, UCLA professor emeritus, says, "People who ... defended themselves with a weapon were less likely to lose property or be injured in an assault than those who did not defend themselves."

Furrow spent one month last year in the psychiatric unit of a Seattle hospital. Following his discharge, he then tried to commit himself into a different facility. There, he bluntly stated his desire to kill people, and even pulled a knife on two workers.

Days earlier, Furrow apparently cut a finger deep enough to expose bone, and had about a half a dozen knife slashes on his arm. For threatening the mental hospital workers, the police arrested him, charging him with second-degree assault. His defense attorney initially filed a motion for an insanity defense, and the prosecution called Furrow a threat to himself and others, the standard for involuntary commitment. The court sentenced him to eight months in jail, but he served only five, getting credit for time served, and for good behavior. Then, he walked free.

Before sentencing, Furrow stated, "Yesterday, I had thoughts that I would kill my ex-wife and some of her friends, and then maybe I would drive to Canada and rob a bank. I wanted the police to shoot me. I own a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun made by Taurus. I always carry it in the glove box of my car. I also have several knives." He also wrote, "Sometimes I feel I could just loose (sic) it and kill people."

The judge ordered Buford to surrender his guns, but the probation officer, in violation of department policy, never checked to determine whether Furrow complied. And, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says that a jail psychologist made several calls to the police. He wanted them to file charges against Furrow, so that he could begin the process of involuntary civil commitment. Somebody dropped the ball.

Following the shootings, Attorney General Janet Reno urged written and manual tests for prospective gun buyers, "demonstrating that they know how to safely and ... lawfully use (a weapon) under state law. And I would have a background check that would make sure they had evidenced the willingness and capacity to do so."

Would that have stopped Furrow? As a convicted felon, he already violated the law by possessing handguns of any sort. Also, California law outlaws carrying a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school. As mentioned, his probation officer violated policy by failing to make any in-home visits. And, as a mechanical engineer, Furrow could likely have passed any written test without much difficulty.

Remember, the government outlawed "assault" weapons, like Tommy guns, long ago. "Assault-style" weapons, cosmetically designed to look like "assault" weapons, defy easy categorization. Besides, "assault" weapons play a role in less than one percent of crimes involving firearms.

The predictable political response is, "Let's do something." This usually means pass more laws, push more regulation, spend more money. Let's get real. This country contains "nut cases," some with murderous, evil intentions. We must enforce laws already on the books, and urge mental health professionals to do their jobs. Let's also keep things in perspective. A recent poll by the Anti-Defamation League calls 12 percent of Americans anti-Semitic, an all-time low. Crime is down. Shootings are down, including school shootings.

But, we also must examine why this shooter failed to pick on bigger, more symbolic targets. They armed themselves. They were prepared. The Bible, the Torah, and the Talmud make numerous references to the importance of preparedness and self-defense.

We must remain vigilant, acutely aware that bad guys exist. For the Torah says, " ... and you must surely guard your life ... "

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©1999, Creators Syndicate