CHARLESTON, W.V. -- When Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum was shot to death in his parked car, many assumed the killing stemmed from his all-out crackdown on drugs. But now it appears the murder suspect was just another mentally ill person with a loaded gun.
The accused killer, Tennis Melvin Maynard, 37, had been in a psychiatric clinic and was "off," his father told The Associated Press. The son had no vendetta against police, he said.
"He would have probably shot anybody, the first one he come to, you know what I'm saying?" the father said. "I know he was off. I know he should have been in a hospital."
This raises a grim question for West Virginians: Why was a mental patient roaming the streets of Williamson with a loaded pistol hidden in his pocket? Can nothing be done about such menaces?
Maynard had no criminal record -- yet county prosecutor Michael Sparks says he was legally forbidden to have a pistol. The prosecutor wouldn't reveal the reason. We assume it was because of his mental hospital stay. Sparks also said the killer purchased the gun from a licensed dealer, adding that the screening "system didn't work, for whatever reason."
Eventually, the prosecutor must reveal all details of the tragedy, because they are important to Mingo countians and West Virginians.
Psychotics with guns are at the heart of America's stormy gun control debate. In recent months, several disturbed men have committed gun massacres across the nation -- yet some Republicans in Congress oppose safeguards to protect people from this danger.
During the current West Virginia legislative session, conservatives in the House plunged into a pro-gun orgy, introducing 36 bills to increase pistol carrying. No bill offered a way to keep pistols from psychotics, drunks, criminals, drugheads, thugs and the like. Do these delegates shrug about murder victims, and care only about pistol-packers?
Most delegates seem terrified of the right-to-bear-arms lobby. They fear that gun-lovers will defeat them in the next election if they don't toe the "more guns" line. But this really isn't true. Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and council leader Tom Lane point out that they took strong stands against guns -- and led the ticket in subsequent balloting.
America has the worst gun murder toll among advanced nations, about 11,000 victims per year. Other democracies won't tolerate such evil, and clamp controls on gunslinging. But America remains a sad exception.
After every gun slaughter, the National Rifle Association declares that bystanders should have been armed, so they could shoot back at the killer. But Mingo's sheriff presumably was wearing his pistol, yet it didn't save him from the surprise fusillade.
As long as conservative lawmakers cower before the gun lobby, Americans will have little defense against killers ready to shoot "the first one he come to."