Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Yet Another Tragic Example Of A Failure In Gun Regulation

Reserve officer Robert Libke (image source)
Last Sunday, firefighters and police responded to a house fire in the town of Oregon City, Oregon, a suburb of Portland.  The neighbors called it in, saying that a house was ablaze and that the man who lived there was "running around on the property with a gun."  That man was 88-year-old Lawrence Cambra, armed with a rifle and a handgun.  According to an article:

Josh Wenzel, 25, saw flames and rushed to help. Cambra came out of his garage with his hair singed and covered in soot. "I did this," Wenzel heard him say. "I started the fire." 
"He didn't seem to be in his right mind," Wenzel said. "He wasn't frantic or worried."

One of the first to arrive was a reserve officer, 41-year old Robert Libke.  Libke confronted Cambra, yelling twice for Cambra to drop his weapon.  Cambra responded by shooting Libka in the face (see HERE for details on the shooting and response).

SWAT responded and traded fire with Cambra and hitting him.  Cambra died at the scene, but the fatal wound turned out to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The house fire, which was almost certainly arson, was eventually extinguished by the fire department after several hours. 

Sadly, officer Libke died from his wound.  He was the first Oregon City officer to be killed in the line of duty since 1906.  Reserve officers like Libke are volunteers, meaning he was protecting his community without even getting paid to do so.  Our men and women in blue are heroes every day, but Libke was especially so, since he purposely put himself in harm's way for the good of the community without even getting compensated for it.  According to an article:
Outside of being a volunteer Oregon City cop, Libke worked at the steel mill where Demus works. Libke held a full-time job as supervisor at the EVRAZ Oregon steel mill. EVRAZ has a structural and rolling mill in Portland, Ore.

He also leaves behind a wife who is pregnant with their first child, making this horror story all the more tragic.

In recognition of Libke's ultimate sacrifice, a procession of police cars escorted his body to the funearl home, a candlelight vigil was held by members of his community, and, according to an article, the Governor’s Commission for the Medal of Honor voted unanimously to present reserve officer Libke’s family with the Medal of Ultimate Sacrifice.
Although Libke volunteered his services, his family is eligible to be considered for Oregon Public Safety Memorial Fund benefits, including a $25,000 lump sum payment. A board may approve discretionary benefits including health and dental reimbursement for Libke’s family, mortgage payments for up to a year and scholarship considerations for his unborn child, according to the State Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. 
As for his life when not volunteering to protect his community,Libke had also worked at Evraz, a North Portland steel company, where he was a general supervisor in charge of 60 people. His coworkers were shocked by Libke's death.

"I think he thought he was there to calm a guy down whose house was on fire," said Bruce Iredale, Vice President of Evraz. "He wanted to help people and he was good at it." 

A fund has been set up in Libke's name, and a memorial is being planned.

But what about the monster who committed this heinous act?  Well, it turns out that Cambra wasn't
Shooter Lawrence Cambra (source)
a nice man.  Police had responded to his home dozens of times.  He had a history of violence which included pulling a gun on some painters who had wanted him to move his car out of the way of potentially being splashed with paint.  When someone complained about him keeping homing pigeons in his back yard, Cambra responded by shooting all the pigeons to death instead of moving them.  Said one ex-neighbor of Cambra's,
“I avoided him,” Cook said. “I knew what he was capable of. So - he wouldn't say a thing to you, he'd just go get a gun and shoot you.” 

His most recent neighbors were also in fear of the man, saying he was unfriendly, untrustworthy, and angry.  One of those neighbors reported that Cambra had been in a fight with his longtime domestic partner, who left in a huff just before the fire and craziness began.  It turns out that Cambra had once had a restraining order against him, filed by that partner, which was eventually dropped.  From an article:
"His girlfriend or wife left maybe 30 minutes before fire started at house," said neighbor Pam Laird. "She was nervous, trying to call somebody." 
Court records show the girlfriend filed a restraining order against Cambra in 2012, and that officers have been called to the home nearly a dozen times. 
In her own handwriting his girlfriend says "Cambra said he was going to get a gun and get rid of a few people and himself -- and that I 'should watch my back.'" 
Court documents indicate the restraining order was later withdrawn. But neighbors recall a mean streak with the 88-year-old man. 
"He caused a lot of enemies in the neighborhood," said one. 
The last time Laird saw Cambra alive, he was pounding on her back door and trying to get in. She refused.
"I've never let him in my house," Laird said. "He wasn't a nice man, ever."

Wow.  And yet, despite the history of drawing a gun on people, shooting to death his own pets, anger issues, and even having had a restraining order against him, it was perfectly legal for this man to own as many guns as he wished.

This is the sad result. 

But stories like this happen all the time in America, so much so that it hardly rises above regional news headlines.  It's not even the first time that people have fired on emergency personnel responding to a fire.  Consider this case from New York, this case from Nevada, this one from Iowa, or this one from Alabama.

It's a dilemma that I've personally heard from officers, deputies, and even my police chief.  They are always bumping up against the current definition of gun rights and the Fourth Amendment.  It doesn't matter how violent and crazy a person is or how much he is feared by the community, friends, and family -- if he hasn't been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, doesn't have a warrant for his arrest, and hasn't yet committed a felony, there isn't anything they can do.  That lunatic is free to amass as large of an arsenal as he wishes and there's nothing anyone can do about it....

... until he pulls the trigger.

The Oregon City shooting is a prime example of how we need to change the law.  We need to stop putting "gun rights" over the welfare of the people and their right to live without fear.  We need to have the law take into account the opinion of relatives and neighbors on the gun owner's level of sanity and self control (as Japan and Canada do).  And we need to have a mental health system that more clearly defines when a person can be referred by police to psychiatric evaluation and when an individual is determined to be a threat to themselves and others, to have them held and to have their gun rights revoked until they are determined to no longer be a threat.

The best way to honor the memory of Officer Libke is by working to keep guns out of the hands of lunatics like Cambra.