Remembering the First School Shooting and Its Gunwoman
The Chicago Tribune wrote, "Laws Failing To Keep Guns Out Of Hands Of Disturbed," and, "Suspect Had History Of Bizarre Acts."
But the headlines weren't about Stephen Phillip Kazmierczak of the Northern Illinois University shootings in February or Seung-Hui Cho of the Virginia Tech massacre last year.
They were about a 30-year-old former babysitter who shot six students at an elementary school in an affluent Chicago suburb, one of whom died, and another man before killing herself twenty years ago -- and ushering in the era of the school shooting.
Like Kazmierczak and Cho, Laurie Dann of Winnetka, IL had an extensive police and psychiatric record before her rampage in May of 1988 and there were ample warning signs.
She had been investigated by authorities in three states for repeated threats to kill people and even stabbed her ex-husband with an ice pick.
She had a "thing" for raw meat, putting it under her mattress at college while she slept and stealing it from the refrigerators of families for whom she babysat.
She rode elevators for hours wearing rubber gloves to avoid touching the metal.
Two days before the shootings, Dann mailed arsenic laced snacks to former acquaintances and her psychiatrist and hand delivered others, leaking and appearing foul, to fraternities at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.
And the day of the shootings she started fires at a Winnetka home and a different school from the one she shot up.
P.S. She was on psychiatric drugs.
But long before Columbine, campus-wide email alerts and "crazed gunman" drills in schools, the community didn't ask how it failed Dann.
It didn't consider bills to let students carry guns to class for future Danns.
It wanted to know how the hell a violent criminal owned three legal guns.
In fact, at a town meeting to discuss a handgun ban after the shootings at the local high school, gun advocate Susan Craig was booed off the stage and shown the door after "screaming that criminals will make their own guns anyway," and that the "handgun ban will hurt people," according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Try booing a gun advocate today.
At a different town meeting, Rabbi Harold Kudan of nearby Temple Am Shalom went on record as challenging aggressive leaflets the gun lobby circulated a month after the shootings that claimed, "If Jews had been armed they could have fought the Nazis."
"If Jews had guns in Nazi Germany, no one would have survived. It would have been an excuse for Nazis to kill with even greater abandon," he told the assemblage, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Of course criminals "making their own guns anyway" or at least not obeying prevailing gun laws is the fulcrum on which gun lobby logic turns.
Not only can we not stop criminals and the mentally ill from getting guns goes the High Noon logic, gun laws will stop us Good Guys from protecting ourselves when they do.
But there's a flaw to "the paranoid paradise of the gunslinger's imagination," as Hall Crowther calls it on indyweek, "a world so dangerous that an unarmed citizen is taking an irrational risk," and "only anti-social behavior will keep you alive."
The flaw is that Dann, Kazmierczak and Cho were legal gun owners several times over.
They passed their background checks with flying colors.
So did gunmen and women Latina Williams, who killed three at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge in February, Sulejman Talovic who killed five in Salt Lake City's Trolley Square mall in 2007, Vincent J. Dortch who killed three at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 2007, Jennifer Sanmarco who killed six at a Goleta, CA postal facility in 2006, Bart Ross, who killed a Federal judge's husband and mother in Chicago in 2005, Terry Ratzmann, who killed seven in a church service in Milwaukee in 2005 and Chai Vang, who killed six Wisconsin hunters in 2004.
And while you can't stop the actions of criminals and the mentally ill, they're not likely to commit drive by stabbings.
Sixteen years after the Dann shootings, officials at Hubbard Woods School where the shootings occurred, have not lost their resolve. They withdrew an invitation for First Lady Laura Bush to read to children during a Chicago visit in 2004, according to Wilmette Life, citing the Bush administration's "lax stance on gun control."
Martha Rosenberg is a cartoonist for the Evanston Roundtable in Evanston, Illinois.