'Why did this have to happen?'

Fort Worth: Mass murder must prompt presidential candidates to address gun proliferation.

September 19, 1999

DISTRAUGHT and red-eyed, Chris Hightower, 15, emerged from Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Eight people were dead or dying inside the church, including the man who opened fire.

"I just saw my best friend murdered," he cried. "Why did this have to happen?"

Who's going to answer him?

These indiscriminate mass shootings by people whose access to a gun far exceeds their sanity are coming almost monthly now. No setting, however benign, seems immune. No cocoon exists from this wanton violence -- not a school, not an office, not a child-care facility, not a church.

Who's going to answer the young man's question?

Perhaps the candidates for president will seriously confront the proliferation of guns someday. To date, like Congress, they've been cowed by the powerful gun lobby. Or they fear they'll not appear tough enough or conservative enough if they propose stiffer standards for gun purchases. The latest killing came in Texas Gov. George W. Bush's own back yard.

The absolutely wrong response to the violence would be to become numbed by its repetition, to think "another crazed gunman -- been there, done that." Such indifference hastened the decline of cities as the nation virtually ignored the murder-a-day in drug-ridden neighborhoods.

Such nonchalance may be recurring on a broader scale now. In fact, until they saw the muzzle of his semiautomatic erupt, 70 teen-agers gathered for a religious program at the Fort Worth church thought the agitated intruder was an actor in an impromptu play. Real terror couldn't happen here.

Chris Hightower believed that. Now, he has a question.

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