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Two cases: Mental illness and targeting authority

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A man named Christopher Chase – 35 years old and living alone in an apartment on Walter SE a few blocks south of Central – put a few hundred rounds of ammunition in a bag, strapped on body armor and hid his gun under a big jacket, then walked over to Broadway on a Saturday morning.

He approached a man at a carwash and instructed him to call police and tell them he was armed and waiting for them. Wearing a black face mask and holding an assault rifle, he must have been fearsome, but as he waited at a bus stop he made it clear he was hunting only for cops.

As Albuquerque police officers sped to the scene, Chase made good on that promise. In a shootout that lasted a half-hour and covered more than a dozen miles, Chase shot only at APD and Bernalillo County officers in marked units. By the time he had crashed at a gas station and died, he had hit three APD officers and a sheriff’s deputy.

A man named Paul Ciancia – 23 years old, an unemployed motorcycle mechanic – walked into Los Angeles International Airport a little after 9 in the morning last Friday carrying a black duffel bag containing a Smith & Wesson .223-caliber M&P-15 assault rifle and five magazine clips of ammunition.

He walked to the passenger screening area and shot a uniformed agent with the federal Transportation Security Administration at point-blank range.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Ciancia walked through the screening area cursing TSA agents and making clear his mission. He approached people and asked, “Are you TSA?” If the answer was no he left them alone.

In the minutes before he was shot by airport police, Ciancia killed one TSA agent, wounded two others and also shot a civilian.

In Albuquerque, the man who targeted police had “cop killer” tattooed on his knuckles. Part of the ongoing investigation focuses on what exactly prompted such animosity against law enforcement in a man with a couple of traffic tickets and one arrest for a nonviolent felony.

In Los Angeles, a handwritten note found in Ciancia’s bag said he didn’t want to hurt anyone “innocent.” His letter said he had decided to try to kill multiple TSA employees. Addressing the TSA, he said his aim was to “instill fear in your traitorous minds.”

It’s dangerous to draw comparisons between men with obvious mental problems who used guns to target law enforcement officers – and made a show of sparing “innocent” civilians – in two cities two weeks apart.

That hasn’t prevented me from trying to do just that. I suppose it’s a way to make some sort of uneasy peace with two such perversely troublesome acts.

By now, we’ve come to understand all sorts of mass shootings – the schizophrenic loner on campus, the fired employee at the factory, the felon on the run going down in a shootout with police.

But getting dressed in the morning, picking up your long gun and a bag filled with ammo and going out to pick off government agents at random, based only on their uniform? That’s a new level of anti-authority fervor and a clean break with the social contract that allows police and TSA screeners to go out and do their jobs representing the government without the expectation that they might be hunted simply because of their employer.

The break in that contract is already prompting calls for an arms race.

TSA was never meant to be an armed security force; its job is to screen air passengers in this post-9/11 era for prohibited items. But in response to the Los Angeles airport shooting spree, the union representing TSA employees called for a new class of TSA officers – agents who are armed.

In Albuquerque, of course, the police were armed and they shot back. Still, the police union president responded to the Chase shootout by suggesting APD officers get new guns – assault-style weapons like the one Chase had.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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