Details are beginning to emerge about the man who opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs – and with them only more questions as to how this man was able to acquire an assault rifle. Robert L. Dear is 57 or 59 years old; records are inconsistent. One reads his gender as “female,” prompting right-wingers to smear him as transgender and somehow pin this on “liberals.” He is already being painted by the mainstream media as a “itinerant loner” (NYT) and “adrift and alienated” (Washington Post) inviting the excuses of mental illness that are constantly used as a way to explain away the murders committed by white people. He lived in solitude in the Rocky Mountains, but spent several decades in the Carolinas. Known to his neighbors only for handing out anti-Obama pamphlets, he had a tendency for provoking conflict with those around him.
Dear has a laundry list of minor criminal offenses, mostly traffic violations, but a few major ones – voyeuristic stalking and domestic violence. ThinkProgress summarized his rap sheet as such:
Dear’s wife said that he locked her out of the house and, once she gained entry, he hit her and pushed her out of window. His wife didn’t want to press charges, saying she wanted only a police record of the incident. The cops noted that she had “apparent bruises” on her body from where she said Dear pushed her in the chest.
Five years later, Dear was investigated for making “unwanted advances” toward a woman who lived in his neighborhood. Dear’s neighbor Lynn Roberts and her husband reported he was hiding in the bushes by their house. Roberts said that he was “leering” at her on a “regular basis”; court records show that she eventually filed a restraining order against him in July 2002.
Dear has also faced a handful of other investigations for allegedly abusing an animal and threatening a neighbor. The charges against him have all been dropped or dismissed.
While he was never convicted of any of these crimes, they are clear warning signs. Domestic abusers are conclusively linked to other kinds of violence later in life. This being the second mass shooting in Colorado Springs this month, the attack also calls into question the state’s notoriously lax gun laws. When the first shooting happened last month, concerned residents called the police before the shooting happened – but were informed that it is legal to openly carry an assault rifle, allowing the shooter to murder four people before being apprehended.
This attack should revive two important discussions in American society – of the reckless proliferation of firearms and the threat posed by radical right-wing terrorists. It is no coincidence that he entered a Planned Parenthood to commit his grisly crimes. Unfortunately, we have only silence from FOX News and the Republican presidential candidates, who have refused to acknowledged the shooting even though a police officer was killed. Evidently, our “background checks” and gun control regulations have failed us once again. President Obama has called for action once again, saying that “If we truly care about this – if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience – then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them.” Sadly, history tells us that’s not going to happen.
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.