Paranoia Leads to Tragedy: Connecticut college student's life ruined by gun control

Just days after the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a 23-year old college student in Connecticut was a victim of another gun-related tragedy. No guns were fired, no one was physically injured, but even so, a life was ruined. William Dong was licensed in Connecticut to carry a concealed handgun. He worked for an armored car company and, along with being a good student, and hard worker, he was a budding firearm enthusiast.

Like all of us, Dong was deeply disturbed by the atrocity in Newtown and the subsequent media hype surrounding that tragic event. And like many people, especially those near the event, he developed a fear of something like that happening again and being helpless to do anything about it. He was reassured by his own ability to carry and effectively use a handgun, but also wanted to have a good personal-defense carbine. That’s where William Dong made his first mistake; on a trip to Pennsylvania he purchased an AR-style rifle from a private seller. It’s not illegal to purchase a long gun in another state in a face-to-face transaction, but out-of-state purchases should be made through a licensed dealer. Since the rifle he purchased had a collapsible stock and other “military” features, it was subsequently banned in Connecticut, compounding Dong’s mistake.

Out of concern that a Virginia Tech-style attack could occur at his school, Dong discreetly carried his licensed handgun while attending classes. This was his second mistake. Though Connecticut law does not ban firearms on college campuses, the owner or manager of any property can forbid guns and, unlike most states, where violation of such a prohibition is misdemeanor trespassing, in Connecticut it’s a serious felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison. UNH includes a firearm prohibition in their student code of conduct.

Dong’s third mistake was deciding he was going to take a trip to the range after class one day and putting his rifle and extra ammo in his car in preparation for that range session. He parked the car off campus, and made a point of placing the rifle out of view behind the driver’s seat before walking to class.

A homeless woman saw Dong transferring the rifle to the back seat, and with visions of Sandy Hook dancing in her head, she called the police to report a man with a gun headed toward the campus of UNH. Police and SWAT teams mobilized as Dong hurried to biology class. He was in the middle of a test when the school went into lockdown, and he was peacefully taken into custody a few minutes later.

Media, prosecutors, and politicians went into a frenzy, declaring that a tragedy had been averted and referring to Dong as a “gunman,” with blazing headlines about this “Gun-Wielding UNH Student,” even though he never “wielded” a gun in the incident. Press accounts made much of the fact that police found 2700 rounds of ammunition in Dong’s bedroom along with newspaper clippings about the Batman movie massacre in Colorado, even pointing to the lock on his bedroom door as somehow incriminating. Governor Dannel Malloy quickly claimed Dong’s arrest was proof that the new firearm restrictions he had helped push through the state legislature – on top of laws that were already among the most restrictive in the nation – had worked, never mind that the new laws had little bearing on Dong’s case.

Dong eventually pled guilty to one count of illegal sale and transfer of an “assault weapon” and two counts of illegal possession of a pistol. He was sentenced to eight years, with supervised release after two if he behaves in prison. Now a felon, he loses his right to firearms for life. He still faces prosecution on federal charges for the way he acquired the rifle.

Certainly William Dong made mistakes. His biggest mistake was probably believing that because he was a “good guy” and had no malicious intent, others would recognize that as well. But being a “good guy” is no defense against public panic.

In most states, Dong might have been kicked out of school and possibly cited for misdemeanor trespass. In most states, 2700 rounds of ammunition and clippings about a major crime wouldn’t be considered unusual, and certainly not evidence of ill intent. And in most states, an extra lock on a bedroom door where guns and ammunition are stored would be considered prudent and responsible, not suspicious. Unfortunately William Dong didn’t live in most states, he lived in Connecticut in the wake of a tragedy where children were slaughtered and politicians responded by making bad laws worse and making criminals of innocent people.

I don’t know what was in William Dong’s heart, but I know that the picture the media painted of him could have been a picture of me or many of my friends in college. Luckily for us, we lived in Arizona, not Connecticut, and that was before one crazy murderer could dominate the media for months ginning up irrational fear and paranoia. Dong wasn’t so lucky.

Gun control laws don’t stop lunatic killers, but tragically, they do ruin people’s lives.

©2014 The Firearms Coalition, all rights reserved. Reprinting, posting, and distributing permitted with inclusion of this copyright statement.

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