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Public Health And Gun Law Issues Remain 30 Years After Edmond Postal Shooting

An Edmond Postal employee is consoled following a shooting spree that left 15 people, including the shooter, dead at the Edmond Post Office, Wednesday, August 20, 1986 in Edmond. An additional six people were injured in the shooting.
David Longstreath
An Edmond Postal employee is consoled following a shooting spree that left 15 people, including the shooter, dead at the Edmond Post Office, Wednesday, August 20, 1986. An additional six people were injured in the shooting.

Saturday marks 30 years since a disgruntled former employee shot 20 of his colleagues at the U.S. Post Office in Edmond, killing 14.

Three decades later, gun deaths in Oklahoma are still higher than the national average, and University of Oklahoma College of Public Health Dean Gary Raskob told The Journal Record's Sarah Terry-Cobo scientific research should play a role in crafting laws to address gun violence:

Raskob said though firearm control is a politicized issue, public health scientists can and should examine the issue in a nonpartisan manner. Policy should be based on science, he said. More research is needed to provide data to lawmakers. “I don’t think anyone in the public health community is saying we want to take away guns,” Raskob said. “But there are reasonable steps that could be taken that balance constitutional rights with basic steps to enhance the safety of society and there is evidence to support those.”

In 2014, about 15.6 people per 100,000 died from a firearm in Oklahoma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national average is about 10.2 gun deaths per 100,000.

A national study published in the Lancet medical journal examined legislation state by state, and found three types of laws were most effective in lowering gun deaths:

  • Ballistic firearm identification policies
  • Universal background checks for gun purchases
  • Universal background checks for ammunition

Though gun deaths make up 60 percent of all violent deaths in Oklahoma, homicides aren’t the leading cause. Brandi Woods-Littlejohn manages the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s violence prevention program and said suicides outnumber homicides by three to one.
Her program monitors violent deaths, gathering statistics from death certificates, medical examiners’ reports and law enforcement records. Oklahoma is one of 32 states participating in the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System.

The August 20, 1986 attack was the first in a string of violent attacks at federal facilities in the late 1980s and early 1990s that spawned the phrase “going postal.”

The shooter’s motive has never been definitively established, but he had been disciplined the day before. He returned the next morning and shot and killed one of his two supervisors (the other didn’t arrive to work until after the attack ended). There were about 100 people at the downtown post office on Broadway, and 14 died at the scene, while another half-dozen were injured before Sherrill took his own life.

In the months after the shooting, state lawmakers in Oklahoma City didn’t do much to address the attack, retired state Senate President Pro Tem Cal Hobson told The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt:

At the time of the shooting, Hobson was a 41-year-old state representative from Cleveland County. Hobson said he probably voted against Oklahoma’s Make My Day law that year, which gave people the right to use deadly force against someone who illegally enters a dwelling and might harm another person. “It was the usual kind of anecdotal case that comes up,” he said. But for laws specifically about guns, Hobson said there just wasn’t any political will to address the issue in either a regular or special session. The shooting happened a few months after lawmakers wrapped up their work for the year. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or Republican, you’re not for more gun regulations,” he said. “If (Gov. Henry) Bellmon had called us in, we probably wouldn’t have stayed more than 10 minutes.”

It wasn’t until 1992 that legislators started to introduce unlawful carry statutes, starting with a bill that prohibits gun on school property. Denwalt says Oklahoma has continued to loosen gun regulations in the workplace.

In 2004, lawmakers prohibited employers from banning guns in their workers’ vehicles. The Oklahoma Self Defense Act, allowing the carrying of concealed handguns, passed nine years after the Edmond shooting; one of the state’s earliest laws had banned the practice. A 2009 law prevents supervisors from asking whether their employees are carrying a weapon.

KGOU produces journalism in the public interest, essential to an informed electorate. Help support informative, in-depth journalism with a donation online, or contact our Membership department.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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