On Saturday, Christian extremist Noah Harpham shot three people to death in Colorado Springs, Colorado before police were ultimately able to take him down. There were no “good guys with guns” around, depriving potential victims of the NRA’s fabled saviors, a recovering alcoholic with violent tendencies. Until police arrived, there was only the shooter and his potential victims… But could the police have arrived a little sooner? According to Mother Jones, the answer is yes.
Pointing to an excerpt from the Denver Post, Mark Follman notes that “police may have had a chance to intervene before the slaughter began—but that a police dispatcher may have reacted without urgency to a 911 call about Harpham because of Colorado’s open carry law.” The Post notes that Naomi Bettis called 911 when she saw Harpham, whom she recognized as her neighbor, wandering around with a rifle and a “distraught look on his face.” However, her report was not taken very seriously by the dispatcher because of Colorado’s open carry laws:
Witnesses watched in horror as Harpham picked his victims off. One of them, the bicyclist, pleaded for his life before being killed.
“I heard the (young man) say, ‘Don’t shoot me! Don’t shoot me!’ ” Naomi Bettis, a neighbor who witnessed the killing, said Monday.
Bettis said she recognized the gunman as her neighbor—whom she didn’t know by name—and that before the initial slaying she saw him roaming outside with a rifle.She called 911 to report the man, but a dispatcher explained that Colorado has an open carry law that allows public handling of firearms.
Just before the shooting, Harpham, who worked in insurance and who referred to himself as a “big friendly giant” on dating websites, posted a blog wondering if his father is in a Satanic cult. “He did have a distraught look on his face,” Bettis said of his demeanor. “It looked like he had a rough couple days or so.”
“It’s unclear how much time elapsed between Bettis’ 911 call and when the rampage began, but according to the Gazette the initial police response didn’t come until after the carnage was in progress,” Follman notes. “By then, Harpham had killed the bicyclist, 35-year-old Andrew Alan Myers, and two women at a nearby location, 42-year-old Jennifer Michelle Vasquez, and 34-year-old Christina Rose Baccus-Gallela.”
Lately, in response to public outrage, police have adopted the practice of informing callers that “it’s not illegal to open carry” when they phone in a concern about one of the NRA’s heroic “law-abiding gun owners” frightening those around them by carrying their AR-15, AK-47, or Plasma Blaster around in public in an effort to show off their auxiliary man parts, or “keep people safe” (take your pick).
Sadly, it is true that it is not illegal to open carry in most states. Anyone, regardless of mental state, training, or demeanor, can pick up an AR-15 and stroll down the street. No one can do anything about it until that “good guy with a gun” rips off his mask, yells “surprise!” and reveals himself to be essentially the villain at the end of every episode of Scooby Doo. The problem is that the “good guys with guns” and “bad guys with guns” look, smell, and taste (we assume) exactly the same. The only difference is that the “bad guys” open fire on innocent people, while the “good guys” shoot the people they are saving in the head and let the “bad guys” get away.
It’s impossible to rewind time and test theories, but it seems as though it’s probably bad practice to shrug off a call to police dispatch simply because it’s legal for someone like Harpham to wander around in public with something that allows him to eliminate people quickly. Could lives have been saved, had the dispatcher taken the call seriously? The simple answer is “we don’t know” — but we shouldn’t exactly be in a position where we need to figure that out, should we?
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.