Commentary: When Guns Fall Into the Wrong Hands

Tonight’s Execution in Sniper Case, Fort Hood Incident Highlight Need for Gun Control

More than seven years ago, John Allen Muhammad, also known as the D.C. Sniper, shocked the world when he and his protégé, Lee Malvo, killed 10 people and injured three innocent civilians in a senseless killing spree. Muhammad was sentenced to death by lethal injection, which is scheduled tonight, at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va.

He carried out execution-style shootings for three weeks in the fall of 2002. Innocent civilians were gunned down in cold blood in public places such as gas stations, a covered parking garage and on the footsteps of a public bus.

Muhammad’s defense attorney filed an appeal of his execution and requested clemency from the governor of Virginia, claiming mental instability. In a brief interview, the attorney, Jonathan P. Sheldon, did not elaborate on the case. Sheldon, who is also board president of Virginiansfor Alternatives to the Death Penalty, simply stated, “My client has not been granted clemency, and we are waiting for the ruling of the court.” On Monday, the Supreme Court turned down the request for a stay of the execution. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine denied clemency this afternoon.

The sniper case is just one example of how innocent people’s lives are put at risk everyday by having guns in the hands of the wrong people. In light of today’s memorial service at Fort Hood, Texas, this is a disheartening message for Americans.

Describing the incident as “murderous and craven,” President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama paid tribute to the dozen men and women killed last Thursday by Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist. Unlike Muhammad, Hasan might not be executed since the death penalty is considered a rare occurrence in military cases.

Some people in the Washington area had mixed views on Muhammad’s punishment. “What he did was notorious and he should be punished, not necessarily by the death penalty because I don’t believe in that,” said Melech Thomas, a senior Communication and Culture major, student activist against gun violence and the reigning Mr. Howard University.

“So much emphasis was placed on this case, but yet nine children a day are being sniped and no one cares,” Thomas said after attending a “Do You Care?” anti-gun violence volunteer meeting.

Dinah Pena, a sports medicine major from Houston, said: “He killed innocent people. He deserves to die – a life for a life. He should have stayed in jail longer, but I agree with the judgment made by the court.”

News of the execution has made headlines globally, and people all over the world are waiting to see what happens. Muhammad’s ex-wife, Mildred Muhammad, wrote a book, “Scared Silent,” about the domestic violence she endured during their marriage.

Did Muhammad’s violent past make him more susceptible to such a rampage? Could the violence in his home and elsewhere have been prevented? More importantly, what will happen the next time guns fall into the wrong hands?