september - handgun history


Each month, this section features prominent incidents of violence in the history of America involving handguns and shooters, ranging from school-aged children to disgruntled employees to lone-wolf assassins, acting out of a wide range of motives. Each month's incidents will include details such as: the identity of the shooter; the number of people killed and wounded; the make, model, and caliber of the handgun(s) used in the shooting; the circumstances of the shooting; and, how the handgun was acquired.

  • On September 5, 1975, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a member of the Manson family, attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford outside the Senator Hotel in Sacramento, California. Apparently unfamiliar with how to use the Colt .45 pistol, Fromme had not chambered a round from the magazine. When she pointed the gun at Ford, it would not fire and Fromme was captured immediately. The handgun was legal. Fromme borrowed it from a friend in July 1975. Though she was known to be a member of the Manson family, and Sacramento police had been alerted of her presence by her landlord, Fromme was not under surveillance or on any Secret Service list. 

  • On September 6, 1949, Howard Unruh shot and killed 13 people—five men, five women, and three children—during a 12-minute shooting spree in his East Camden, New Jersey, neighborhood. Unruh was armed with a war souvenir Luger pistol and 33 rounds of ammunition. He was never prosecuted because he was declared mentally unfit to stand trial on 13 counts of murder and three counts of "atrocious assualt." 

  • On September 9, 1999, Richard Wayne Spicknell, II, who was embroiled in a divorce with his wife, took his two children out for a drive, telling friends that he was taking them on vacation. Soon after, he shot his son and daughter near Laurel, Maryland, and told police that he had been the victim of a carjacking. He later confessed to the killings. Spicknall's Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol was illegal. Although his wife had obtained a restraining order against him, he was able to buy the handgun. The pistol was purchased from a pawn shop in College Park, Mayland, on September 2, 1999. Under federal law, anyone who has a domestic violence restraining order is prohibited from possessing firearms. However, because of a backlog in the Maryland police computer system, Spicknall's name did not come up during a background check. 

  • On September 15, 1997, Arthur Hastings Wise went on a shooting spree at the R.E. Phelon Company manufacturing plant in Aiken, South Carolina, killing four and wounding three, before ingesting a toxic substance. Wise had recently been fired from the Phelon plant and had unsuccessfully applied for other jobs with the company. One of Wise's victims had allegedly received one of those jobs. The 9mm pistol used in the attack was acquired illegally. Wise had previous convictions for bank robbery, interstate transportation of stolen property, and receiving stolen goods. He had spent three and a half years in prison and his criminal background made it illegal for him to own firearms. 

  • On September 15, 1999, Larry Gene Ashbrook, who had a history of paranoia and mental instability, shot three people in the lobby of the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He then entered the sanctuary where more than 150 people were waiting for a concert to begin, shooting 11 more people before killing himself. In all, eight people were killed and seven were wounded. Ashbrook also threw a pipe bomb, which caused no injuries. The Ruger P85 9mm pistol and .380 pistol were acquired legally at a flea market from federally licensed firearm dealers in 1992. 

  • On September 22, 2000, Ronald Gay, who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, asked a restaurant employee where he could find the nearest gay bar. Minutes later, he entered the Backstreet Café in Roanoke, Virginia, where he opened fire, killing one person and wounding six. Gay was arrested 10 minutes later, confessed to the shootings, and said he was distressed about the homosexual connotation associated with his last name. The Ruger 9mm pistol was legally purchased in the fall of 1999 from a gun store in Roanoke. Despite his mental health history, Gay had never been committed involuntarily, so there was no legal reason to prevent the purchase.