Letter From Rockfordrnby Scott P. RichertrnDeath at the Wal-MartrnRockford made the national news againrnin late Mav, when the wire services ranrnshocking headlines about a pregnantrnshoplifter gunned down by police at a localrnWal-Mart. Talk radio buzzed withrnangr debates between those who congratulatedrnthe police on a job well donernand those who couldn’t understand howrnofficers could possibly shoot (much lessrnkill) a pregnant woman, even one whornhad drawn a gun on them. Once an autops’rnshowed that Laura Gassaway wasrnnot pregnant, however, the pro-life interestrnin the case apparently dissipated.rnStill, questions remained, not the leastrnof which was why the two veteran copsrnwho fired 2^ shots at Gassaway from asrnclose as four feet onlv managed to hit herrn11 times, while the -S^-vear-old womanrnwounded three Wal-Mart emploveesrnwith onh four shots—while under fire,rnno less.rnNoticeably absent from both local andrnnational coverage of the Wal-Mart shootoutrnwere the calls for more extensive guncontrolrnlaws that follow every schoolrnshoofing. That’s because Illinois has fairlyrnstrict gun laws; since 1968, anyone purchasingrna gun or ammunihon has beenrnrequired to shov- a Firearm Owner’srnIdentification (FOID) card. As with allrnsuch legislation, the FOID Card Act isrnrepresented as protecting law-abiding citizensrn(“It is hereby declared as a matter ofrnIcgislatixe determination that in order tornpromote and protect the health, safetyrnand welfare of the public . . . “) and restricfingrnthe rights of felons:rnit is necessar)’… to provide a systemrnof idenfifi’ing persons who arernnot qualified to acquire or possessrnfirearms and firearm ammunihonrnwithin the State of Illinois. .. ,rnthereby establishing a practical andrnworkable system by which law enforcementrnauthorities will be affordedrnan opportunit)’ to identifyrnthose persons who are prohibited . . .rnfrom acquiring or possessingrnfirearms and firearm ammunihon.rnOf course, those who are “not qualified”rnto own guns or ammo (because of convicfionrnof a felony, addiction to narcotics,rninstitutionalization for mental problems,rnmental retardation, illegal-alien status, orrnconviction of battery, assault, or violationrnof an order of protection) aren’t requiredrnto earn,- a card or be registered in a centralrndatabase; only those who are qualifiedrnare. Laura Gassaway was once issued arnFOID card, which was revoked in 1991rnfor reasons that state authorities won’t divulge.rnThe gun that Gassaway used hadrnbeen purchased legally while its ownerrnwas living in Texas. The owner’s exboyfriendrnstole it and sold it to Gassaway;rncharged with unlawful use of a weaponrnby a felon and unlawful sale or transfer ofrna firearm, he was released on $3,500rnbond. (Notably, he wasn’t charged withrntheft.) Unfortunately, once the BATFrntraced the gun back to her, the owner wasrncharged by police because she hadn’t appliedrnfor a FOID card when she movedrnto Rockford. She was released on $1,000rnbond, which seems remarkably high untilrnwe remember that, in the eyes of thernstate, the real problem isn’t the theft ofrnguns or their illegal use, but the simplernfact of gun ownership by civilians. (ThernFOID Act makes exceptions for U.S.rnmarshals, members of the Armed Forcesrnand National Guard, federal employeesrnrequired to carry guns as part of their duties,rnand law-enforcement officers “of thisrnor any other jurisdiction . . . “)rnLaura Gassaway appears to have beenrnan unsavory character; she had a recordrnof assault and battery going back at leastrnseven years. But a case could be madernthat Illinois’ gun-control laws contributedrnto the shootout at Wal-Mart. Growingrnup in Michigan, I often visited thernsporting-goods aisle (right next to the toyrnsection) at Meijer’s, where boxes of ammornsat on open shelves next to a lockedrnease containing shotguns and .22 caliberrnrifles. On a trip home over MemorialrnDay, I noted that the ammo still sits on anrnopen shelf, though the locked case hasrnbeen moved behind a counter at the endrnof the aisle. You don’t need a FOID cardrnto buy ammo in Michigan; the event thatrnled to the shootout—Wal-Mart employeesrnrefusing to sell ammunition to Ga,ssawayrn—would not have happened.rnBut if Gassaway had been able to buyrnbullets, wouldn’t a greater tragedy havernoccurred? Perhaps —and perhaps not.rnThe Wal-Mart shooting ma} simply havernbeen (as local environmental consultantrnLuther Landon described it) “suicide byrnpolice.” We’ll never know. What we dornknow is that, on at least six occasionsrnsince 1994, Laura Gassaway could havernbeen placed in prison, and the shootoutrncould thus have been avoided. Four ofrnthose times, she received probation, andrntwice —in November 2000, when shernwas up on aggravated battery charges,rnand in July l994, when she was chargedrnwith petty theft and illegal possession of arnfirearm—the cases were dismissed. If thernrepresentatives of the state really wishedrn”to promote and protect the health, safetyrnand welfare of the public” —or evenrnjust to protect Laura Gassawav from herselfrn—they had plenty of opportunitv torndo it before she wounded three Wal-Martrnemployees and took 11 slugs. Requiringrnlaw-abiding citizens to hold a FOID cardrndidn’t prevent this tragedy; igorously enforcingrncriminal laws might have.rnI don’t often praise Wal-Mart—in fact,rnI’ve never done so before—but for years,rnthe chain has courageously resisted pressurernto stop selling shotguns, hunting rifles,rnand ammo. In the wake of the Gassawayrnshooting, however, Wal-Mart’srnmanager of community affairs for thernUpper Midwest, John Bisio, seems tornhave succumbed to a fatalistic view of thernrelationship between guns and free will.rnAs he told the Rockford Register Star,rn”‘[W]e did our job . . . She didn’t leavernour store. She didn’t leave our store withrnammunition. We did the right thing. Irncan’t emphasize that enough, when yournthink about what very well could havernhappened had this not been contained.'”rn”That’s right,” my wife remarked. “Shernmight have shot three people.” crnAUGUST 2001/29rnrnrn