SKS-toting gunman aims at White House and hits the NRA

November 02, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

The beauty of Francisco Martin Duran's deranged act was that nobody got hurt.

Except, as it turns out, the National Rifle Association. The boys at the NRA took a direct hit, and they're bleeding, too.

Usually, to get people really upset about guns, you've got to take out, say, a McDonald's with an AK-47. They're upset now, even though Duran took no casualties.

That wasn't his plan, of course. Duran apparently meant to die in a hail of gunfire, and maybe wing a president in the process, which might seem heroic if your mind were sufficiently unhinged.

It didn't work out that way. When Duran fired his Chinese-made SKS semiautomatic rifle at the White House, nobody fired back.

Instead, to his great humiliation, a couple of ordinary citizens tackled him. He was carted off to jail and then to the psychiatrist's couch. The president, meanwhile, never stirred from his football game. That's not the way to make history.

And yet, Duran will be remembered, if only briefly. Because of the very madness of his act, Duran is the perfect poster boy -- the anti-Charlton Heston -- for gun sanity.

It's pretty difficult these days to stand up, at least with a straight face, and say, "You see, old son, it's un-American to deprive people of the right to their very own assault weapons."

The NRA, whose slogan might as well be "all guns, all the time," will try, though. The boys have been hard at work on the campaign trail, targeting -- that's the right word and the right image -- many of those legislators who brazenly supported the recent crime bill. My gosh. Imagine voting for a crime bill.

Well, everyone's for more jails and more cops. But the NRA and their toadies in Congress were all riled up because the bill bans assault weapons, which can be used, of course, for shooting at tin cans and also, incidentally, for killing dozens of people at a time.

This would seem like a no-brainer. If you can't be for banning assault weapons, you can't be for any gun bill.

Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat out of Nebraska who lost a leg and gained a Medal of Honor in Vietnam, voted for the bill. Charlton Heston has filmed ads for Kerrey's opponent, hitting Kerrey for supporting an oh-so-burdensome five-day waiting period that might actually stop criminals from buying guns.

Kerrey hit back with his own ad. He says he's a hunter. He says he believes Americans have the right to bear arms. He also says, while displaying an AK-47: "Twenty-five years ago in the war in Vietnam, people hunted me. They needed a good weapon, like this AK-47. You don't need one of these to hunt birds."

Interestingly, the SKS was also used to kill Americans in Vietnam. It's a neat little weapon, now banned for export to America. Not that it will disappear any time soon. There are literally millions of the rifles in circulation.

Until Clinton had them stopped, the Chinese dumped them here, nearly a million in 1993 alone. According to a Wall Street Journal report, many policemen see them as "America's first mass-market assault weapon."

The story goes on to say neo-Nazis and skinheads especially seem to like them. So do gang members. They like that the guns are foreign-sounding and that they're cheap and that they're easy to convert to really deadly assault weapons, which is what Duran did.

You might wonder how Duran got hold of his gun. He's a felon, and felons aren't supposed to be able to purchase guns. He was dishonorably discharged. That's another no-no.

He did it just the way you'd expect. According to reports, Duran walked right into a gun store in Colorado Springs, Colo., and walked out with his SKS in hand. It was that easy. When he filled out the paper work, he apparently lied about his past. Nobody checked. The law says you don't have to check on a rifle.

Coincidentally, or maybe not, Duran bought the gun on Sept. 13, the day Clinton signed the crime bill. Certainly, it makes the story better.

Sometime thereafter, Duran goosed up his SKS. He increased the magazine from 10 to 30 rounds and changed the grip. People who know guns say anyone who knows guns could easily do it.

With his gun ready, Duran drove his Chevy pick-up -- with the bumper sticker "Those who beat their guns into plows will plow for those who don't" -- from Colorado to Washington.

And the rest might have been history.

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