Let the recriminations begin! Traditional media column inches would likely be cut at least in half if they were somehow prohibited from printing the results of their uncannily accurate hindsight-enabled analyses. The latest target of their penetrating 20/20 second-guess ray is Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer and his department’s pistol license bureau. They clearly dropped the ball in allowing David Laffer, who murdered four people in a Long Island pharmacy, to keep his guns. Except they didn’t…
To hear Newsday tell it, you’d think the signs that Laffer would one day gun down four people while stealing hydrocodone were as clear and bright as those neon beauties in Times Square. Hindsight’s so convenient that way. It lets you look back and judge the actions of others knowing everything they didn’t at the time. The second-guessers shred those caught in their focus for their conspicuous lack of clairvoyance.
OK, so the pistol license bureau sounds more like something conjured by Franz Kafka rather than the dedicated gun controllers of Suffolk County who dreamed it up. But it’s hard to look at the information they had on Laffer and conclude they screwed the pooch by letting him keep his pistol permit. Unless you publish a newspaper, that is.
Laffer’s mother called the local cops in January because someone had drained her bank account of $8,300. When her son David admitted he had done it, she declined to press charges. The investigating officer, Det. Kenneth Ripp, called the license bureau and asked them to pull Laffer’s permit and confiscate his gun.
There was only one problem. The pistol license bureau operates under rules that – even in the state of New York – are designed to protect lawful gun owners from losing their guns arbitrarily or capriciously.
The pistol bureau has wide latitude in confiscating guns, including whether a person is behaving in a manner that would cause “a normal, rational person to be fearful or threatened,” according to Suffolk’s pistol license handbook.
Wide latitude, but not wide enough to take the guns of someone with no criminal record or history of drug abuse. As Dormer said in defending the actions (or lack thereof) taken by the license bureau:
“Any information or allegations of acts of violence or illegal drug use brought to the attention of the police department would have been forwarded to the pistol license bureau, and would have caused an immediate investigation and a suspension of a pistol license issued to a person accused of either act.”
If only they’d listened to Det. Ripp back in January those four people would be alive today. If only the cops at the license bureau had overlooked the fact that Laffer had no criminal record or history of drug use and pulled his permit anyway, all this could have been prevented. If only the bureau could have looked into Laffer’s heart to see he actually was capable of cold-blooded murder, those four innocent lives would have been saved. If only.
Only none of it is true. In an interview with forbes.com, Laffer made it perfectly clear that losing his licensed gun wouldn’t have stopped him at all.
However, the defendant said in a jailhouse interview that even if police had confiscated his handgun license and .45-caliber pistol, he likely would have acquired a weapon to commit the killings.
“If someone’s dedicated enough, they can get a gun,” David Laffer told Newsday. He also noted that he could have purchased a rifle or a shotgun, which do not require a license. “It’s not a good option, but it’s an option,” he said of using a long gun during a holdup.
He was perfectly willing to buy a handgun illegally or buy a shotgun if he had to. His mother was also a licensed gun owner. It seems unlikely he’d have blanched at taking hers if his had been confiscated. In any case, Laffer was going to rob that store and legal niceties weren’t going to get in his way. Criminals are funny that way.
There’s no way to know, of course, if any of Laffer’s victims would have carried a gun even if it wasn’t virtually impossible to get a permit in the Empire State. Laffer clearly wasn’t worried about anyone returning fire when he walked into that pharmacy and opened up on the people there.
If only someone in that store had had the ability to defend himself. If only.