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Library shots threaten whole community


PEOPLE WHO USE a library may be many different things, but they’re not stupid. People who shoot holes in library have brains as useful as a brick on a stick. And while it’s no crime to be stupid, acting stupid with a firearm is a serious violation of the law, and one that can’t be lightly dismissed.

But was it just stupidity? That’s the simplest way to look at last week’s inexplicable vandalism at the new Roeliff Jansen Community Library on Route 22, where some person or persons fired six shots into the entrance, breaking windows, smashing some exterior tiles and causing damage inside. The bill is expected to come to $5,000 on top of the $3 million in private donations and grants raised to pay for this remarkable facility.

It takes some time to sort through the reactions produced by an incident like this one. Like a lot of people, I want to know who did it and why. It leaves behind a lingering uneasiness that leads to a slow burn of anger. I’m glad no one was hurt, but that relief doesn’t change the facts. The perpetrator injured the community, and like others (see this week’s letters) I want someone held accountable.

Aside from the practical aspects like the mess and the cost of repairs to a beautiful building that’s unique in the county and the region, there are the intangibles. A library is a place where everyone can go. You don’t have to explain why you’re there or what you want, although trained library staff can help you if you ask. A library is a special place because there is nothing there to fear. Don’t like what you find in a library? Close the book; turn off the DVD, walk away from the computer screen. Nobody will think anything about it. And if you never walk through the door of the library, who cares?

The person who took aim at the library introduced an element of fear that conflicts with the library’s basic mission. That fear will pass, and the library was operating normally last week just hours after the shots were taken. But I sensed edginess in the air that day, an unnamed distraction that didn’t belong there. The shots were a departure from the norms of civilized behavior, and they were aimed at a public institution. To have someone among us who doesn’t get why that’s wrong is more disturbing than the shots themselves.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office has the task of finding the person who fired the shots. Investigators need to consider motives and develop a likely suspect based on evidence. I’m tempted to speculate who might have done it and why, but that’s fruitless and another aggravation associated with this crime – it wastes so much time. How would I know something police haven’t already thought of?

Assuming deputies arrest a suspect and that person confesses or a jury convicts him or her, the big question lies in the punishment. First, the perpetrator owes the community an apology, and not just to library users. If you would shoot up a library, what else would you shoot? A firehouse? A store? A school? You only shoot at empty buildings, do you? How is it you know nobody’s there?

And on the subject of apologies, consider all the responsible gun owners in this county, people who will be heading out into the woods to hunt in the next few weeks. They will continue to use their weapons for their intended purpose, safely and without incident. But the person who misused his firearm to shoot at the library needlessly raises questions in the minds of people who don’t own guns. That’s more time lost or, more accurately, stolen.

Technically, the shots fired at the library constitute a property crime. The Sheriff’s Office has cases to investigate that involve violence against people, and law enforcement officers have to make those crimes a priority. But whoever shot at the new Roeliff Jansen Community Library singled out this building. It wasn’t a random drive-by. The perpetrator took aim at the main entrance of an institution that unites three communities and fired six shots.

Whatever circumstances that led up to those shots, this was an act of malice. The person who did it represents a serious threat to the community as a whole, and authorities at all levels should spare no reasonable effort in bringing the person responsible to justice. 

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