Another Dangerous Individual, Another Preventable Tragedy

A murderous rampage that occurred last week on May 19, 2007, provides additional evidence that dangerous individuals can easily get their hands on guns in America, no matter what warning signs they’ve exhibited in the past. And while Jason Hamilton did not garner the national media attention of Seung-Hui Cho after killing three people and himself in Moscow, Idaho, the two cases are eerily similar and make one wonder how many of these shootings the American public is not hearing about.

Hamilton left a Moscow bar last Saturday night and returned home, where he fatally shot his wife in the head. He then drove to the Latah County Courthouse armed with two semiautomatic rifles and fired approximately 125 bullets into the sheriff’s dispatch center and vehicles in the parking lot, killing one law enforcement officer and wounding two other officers and a University of Idaho student. Hamilton wasn’t done yet. He then moved across the street to the First Presbyterian Church and shot and killed a 62 year-old church sexton. After firing off an additional 60 to 80 rounds from inside the church, Hamilton then turned the gun on himself, taking his life at approximately 1:00 a.m. An M-1 rifle was found in the courthouse parking lot. An AK-47-style rifle was found next to Hamilton’s body. A search of Hamilton’s house turned up an Aryan Nations flag and other written materials from the white supremacist group.

As in the case of Seung-Hui Cho, local law enforcement were well acquainted with Hamilton.

In December 1992, Hamilton was accused of aggravated assault in Arizona. The charge was dropped to a misdemeanor and he spent two days in jail.

In 1995, Hamilton was accused of cruelty to animals. The charge was dropped to a misdemeanor and Hamilton was given a one-year suspended sentence.

In 1999, Hamilton was charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm at a vehicle or a building. There was no sentence handed down.

On September 10, 2005, Hamilton was arrested for felony strangulation in a case involving a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. He was convicted of misdemeanor domestic battery and sentenced to 180 days in jail. 90 days were suspended from the sentence after Hamilton agreed to two years probation and mandatory counseling. Another condition was that Hamilton could possess no firearms during this time.

On January 16, 2006, Hamilton was cited for misdemeanor battery for an incident at a local tavern.

On February 16, 2007, Hamilton attempted suicide by overdosing on anti-anxiety medication and was evaluated for involuntary mental health commitment. At this time he told a mental health professional that if he were to really commit suicide, he would take others with him in a mass shooting or bombing. Hamilton was judged not to need involuntary commitment and was released.

On May 15, 2007, just days before the shooting, he was in court again for allegedly violating his probation by failing to continue with his mental health counseling. A follow-up hearing in the case was planned for mid-June.

Despite this extensive and troubling history, law enforcement authorities have indicated that, as far as they’re aware, Hamilton legally purchased his guns. Yet Hamilton’s misdemeanor domestic violence conviction would have prohibited him from purchasing firearms under federal law. Additionally, the terms of his sentence for that conviction called on him to surrender any firearms he owned to law enforcement authorities. Apparently, however, no effort was ever made to confiscate his guns.

What additional red flags were needed in this case? How can an individual with this type of criminal and mental health history so easily acquire the firepower needed to attack a police station? And why has the national press totally ignored a story that reinforces the lessons of the Virginia Tech tragedy?

Have we already forgotten those lessons? Or has gun “rights” again trumped what should be the most basic freedom for all Americans:  public safety.

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