By David B. Kopel
Colorado Springs Gazette, April 11, 1989. More by Kopel on self-loading firearms.
Sheriff Patrick Sullivan of Arapahoe performed with extraordinary bravery during the March 16 hostage shoot-out with psychopath Eugene Thompson But if Colorado's criminal justice authorities had done their jobs properly, Eugene Thompson would have been in jail long before his day he began his rape and murder spree.
On February 12, Littleton police caught Thompson and his gang perpetrating a residential burglary Thompson and his accomplices were caught in possession of a several weapons, including a highly illegal sawed-off shotgun.
After booking Thompson for the burglary, the police let him go.
Thompson was already on probation for crimes committed in previous years. Because Thompson had just flunked out of the Cenikor drug treatment program, his probation could have been immediately revoked.
The Littleton police apparently informed the probation department about Thompson's arrest, but the system moved too slowly to do any good.
In early March, Thompson was again arrested, this time for burglarizing 71 commercial storage lockers in Douglas County Again, the arrest was reported to probation.
But the probation revocation hearing was scheduled for March 20 -- five weeks after Thompson was caught committing a burglary with a the deadliest weapon in any criminal arsenal, a sawed-off shotgun (Shotgun blasts -- unlike wounds from any type of handgun or rifle -- are usually fatal.)
If Eugene Thompson's probation had been revoked after he was caught at the first armed burglary, his victims Beverly and Janice Swartz would still be alive.
Colorado needs to fix its creaky justice system If a criminal already on probation for one felony, and is caught committing a violent felony with a deadly weapon, probation revocation should take place within 48 hours, not within a couple months.
Reforming our complex probation system will be difficult and expensive But it is the necessary step we must take to keep the next Eugene Thompson off the streets.
Instead of starting the hard work of probation reform, some metro police chiefs are trying to stampede the legislature and the city councils into simplistic and unworkable gun control schemes The chiefs' arguments, however, are contradicted by the facts of the Eugene Thompson case.
For example, the chiefs want to restrict the ownership of semi-automatic firearms Yet the weapon that Eugene Thompson used -- a MAC-11 -- wasn't even a semi-automatic It was a full automatic, a gun that has been strictly regulated by federal law since 1934.
Eugene Thompson stole the gun during one of his burglaries -- more proof that criminals will get guns regardless of what laws apply to honest citizens.
Sheriff Sullivan attempts to evade this fact by arguing that Thompson, using a false ID, could have walked into a gun store and bought the exact same gun over the counter.
But that's wrong Buying an automatic MAC-11 requires a federal background investigation, FBI fingerprinting, a letter of permission from the local police chief, and hundreds of dollars in fees and taxes. Buyers of full automatics are lucky if they get their gun in three months.
Sheriff Sullivan wants this same cumbersome scheme to apply to people who already own semi-automatics Yet if these severe controls couldn't stop Eugene Thompson from getting a full automatic, how could they prevent another criminal from getting a semi-automatic.
Sheriff Sullivan points to the large magazine capacity of the MAC-11, and notes that Thompson fired 27 shots during his crime spree, without ever reloading If Thompson had only had a six-shot revolver, argues the Sheriff, that would have been the end of it The sheriff is correct, but only if you assume that Thompson was incapable of reloading a revolver, a task an experienced criminal can accomplish in about five seconds.
The Sheriff argues that "weapons of war" have no place in our society, because they are not useful for hunting Actually, some so-called weapons of war, like the AR-15 or the Ruger M-14, are used by hunters because of their ruggedness and reliability in adverse weather.
MAC-11's, though, are of no use to hunters But the Colorado Constitution doesn't protect a right to hunt anyway Instead, the Colorado Constitution guarantees the right of every "person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, or property."
Semi-automatics are often necessary for self-defense, as the leaders of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and the American Federation of Police recently told the U.S. Senate Semi-autos are particularly necessary, said the police leaders, when victims are being attacked by gangs of violent criminals -- like the robbery gang Eugene Thompson led.
Until we reform our justice system and get drug-crazed murderers like Eugene Thompson off the streets for good, Coloradans will continue to own semi-automatic firearms for self-defense That's Colorado common sense, and that's the Constitution.