Monday, October 16, 2006

October 16

hennardGeorge Hennard of Belton, Texas, was angry at women in the months leading up to 16 October 1991. "It is very ironic about Belton," he explained in a letter he wrote earlier that fall to a young woman with whom he was evidently infatuated. "I found the best and worst in women there. You and sister are the one side. Then the abundance of evil women that make up the worst on the other side.... I will no matter what prevail over the female vipers in those two rinky-dink towns in Texas. I will prevail in the bitter end."

Hennard's bitter end came at Luby's cafeteria in nearby Killeen, fifteen years ago today. During lunch hour that afternoon, Hennard drove his pickup truck through one of the cafeteria windows and opened fire on the crowded diners. Within fifteen minutes, he and his GLOCK 17 and Ruger P89 had "prevailed" over 23 men and women whose ages ranged from 30 (Sylvia King) to 75 (James and Lula Belle Welsh). An additional 20 customers were wounded before Hennard -- shot several times by police -- took his own life in the rear seating area of the restaurant. In the years after the massacre gun advocates urged Texas lawmakers to pass a "concealed carry" law, which they claimed would have enabled Luby's patrons to defend themselves against George Hennard. Although Governor Ann Richards had vetoed just such a bill during her term in office, George W. Bush promised in his gubernatorial campaign of 1994 to support the passage of concealed carry. True to his word, on 26 May 1995, Governor Bush signed into law a provision that enabled licensed residents of Texas to bring concealed handguns virtually anywhere.

According to data maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), license-holders were arrested for 946 crimes between 1 January 1996 and 9 October 1997. Over a quarter of these arrests were on felony charges, including 6 charges of murder or attempted murder; eighteen charges of sexual assault; 48 charges of aggravated assault; two charges of kidnapping; and 66 charges of simple assault. Among weapons-license holders in Texas, the arrest rate during the first half of 1997 was double the rate of ordinary Texans over the age of 21. By the five-year anniversary of the bill's passage, over 200,000 Texans held the so-called "shall-issue" permits; hundreds of thousands of other Americans enjoyed similar liberties in over 20 other states.

By the testimony of several people who knew him, Hennard believed the 1976 Steely Dan song "Don't Take Me Alive" had special relevance to his life:
Can you hear the evil crowd
The lies and the laughter
I hear my inside
The mechanized hum of another world
Where no sun is shining
No red light flashing
Here in this darkness
I know what I've done
I know all at once who I am
The Luby's restaurant in Killeen, Texas, closed in 2000. Over 125 other Luby's restaurants, where no reported shootings have occurred, remain open to all who seek -- according to the Luby's website -- "delicious home-style food, value pricing, and outstanding customer service." For reasons that are perhaps understandable, the company prefers not to mention or discuss George Hennard.