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Thursday, Jan 10 2013 11:00 PM

Taft shooting could've been so much worse

By The Bakersfield Californian

As so many ominously predicted after the Connecticut massacre, it didn't take long for another school shooting to grip our national consciousness. Before the Sandy Hook tragedy even slipped from the news cycle, we've been confronted with another one, this time in our own backyard.

It hardly matters that only one person was critically hurt. One is still too many in a country where school shootings have become far too common. But we must acknowledge one stark difference between Thursday's incident at Taft Union High School and the shootings at Newtown, Columbine and Virginia Tech: the absence of a semi-automatic weapon.

The Taft gunman was armed with a shotgun. He was reportedly carrying a dozen or more shotgun shells in his pocket, which, had he had the time and motivation, would have to be manually loaded. Kern County sheriff's officials say between two and four shots were fired at two students, and only one was hit. Had the shooter been wielding a semi-automatic gun the outcome most certainly would have been different. According to an FBI study, even a novice shooter can fire off three rounds a second with a semi-automatic rifle. A shotgun can certainly be deadly -- especially in a crowded place, given the way the shot disperses -- but it's much more cumbersome and certainly doesn't have the rapid-fire capabilities of an AR-15 with high-capacity magazines, where a sustained spray of bullets can make up for poor aim.

For that we can be thankful that we live in a state with some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. California already bans the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And it has much stricter requirements for registration and training and rigorous background checks on gun sales. Interestingly, our strong gun laws can be traced to Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, who passed the nation's first assault weapons ban in California.

The shooting in Taft also points out the major weakness in proposals by the National Rifle Association and others that the only way to counter a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun. It was the heroic actions of an unarmed science teacher and a campus supervisor that neutralized the shooter at Taft High -- by way of simple conversation. A citizen who lives close to the high school was one of the first to alert police that a young man with a shotgun was walking onto campus. Taft High School employs an armed police officer but the officer wasn't at school that day because he was snowed in at home. And while law enforcement responded quickly and in large numbers, the situation had largely been resolved by the time they arrived on scene.

At the end of the day, it was a close-knit community, a teacher well-liked by his students and a campus supervisor who stopped an incident from potential escalation into a full-fledged national tragedy.

Still, many questions must be answered. How did the shooter get access to the shotgun? How can anyone walk onto a school campus carrying a weapon the size of a shotgun? Does the shooter suffer from some sort of mental illness or simply teen angst magnified by perceived bullying? But let's not be mistaken: This is also a gun issue.

We got lucky with this one. All other factors notwithstanding, had the shooter brought a different weapon onto that campus, the tears might still be flowing.

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