On July 17, Randal Rushing, 25, turned a quiet family home in Scranton, Pennsylvania into a slaughterhouse. At approximately 4:30 AM that morning, Rushing-who rented basement room in the house-went on a killing spree, using a handgun to order his victims into submission and then bludgeoning and stabbing them to death with carpentry hammers and knives. When all was said and done, three people lay dead: Justin Berrios, 21; Dustin Hintz, 22; and Leslie Collier, 16. Collier s body was so badly beaten that police could not tell exactly how he was killed. Authorities believe that Rushing s rampage was triggered by jealousy regarding a girl he was dating who also lived in the house.
Police apprehended Rushing at a friend s apartment the next morning, where he was found playing Playstation in blood-soaked boots. As police led Rushing out of the house, he blew reporters a kiss and told them, I had fun. The office of the Lackawanna County District Attorney is currently deciding whether to pursue the death penalty against him.
Rushing had a permit to carry a concealed handgun in Pennsylvania. His permit application had been approved in less than 24 hours in February 2007, despite the fact that he listed the address of a homeless shelter as his home address and provided two references whose names were illegible. The sheriff who issued the permit, Barry Stankus, claimed that he followed all the guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Crimes Code and utilized the [Pennsylvania Instant Check System] established by the Pennsylvania State Police.
Stankus successor as sheriff, Michael Savokinas, was of a different opinion. He described Stankus office as a one-stop shop for permits and, stating the obvious, noted, we should have called the [references].
Rushing had no criminal record, but even outside the problems with his written application for the permit, there were obvious red flags in his background. His attorney, Paul Ackourey, has stated that Rushing has some serious emotional and mental health problems that will be explored. State Police also indicated that Rushing had made overt threats at T.J. Maxx, where he worked. Despite the fact that Pennsylvania is a shall-issue state, pursuant to statute local law enforcement can deny a concealed carry permit to an individual who is not of sound mind or who has a character and reputation indicating the applicant would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety (among other reasons). Law enforcement is allowed 45 days to carry out an investigation on an applicant.
When claiming that concealed carry permit holders are the most law-abiding citizens in the country, the gun lobby will frequently point to the rigorous vetting they go through in order to obtain their permits. This case, however-and others detailed in our Ordinary People series-reveal that the screening process in many instances is not even cursory, much less rigorous. For example, Pennsylvania does not even require permit holders to undergo firearm safety training before carrying a handgun in public.
Several other important questions are raised by the Rushing case ¦ Did Sheriff Stankus issue permits to other individuals who posed a threat to public safety during his tenure? Has the state of Pennsylvania implemented any monitoring or oversight procedures to determine if there are similar permitting problems in other counties?
An independent audit of the permitting process is also certainly justified. That is impossible, however, because Pennsylvania has enacted a National Rifle Association-drafted law that prohibits the public from accessing information on concealed carry permit holders.
One thing is clear-when it comes to individuals carrying handguns in public, it is time for Pennsylvania to start putting the safety of its citizens ahead of the interests of the gun lobby.