This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's Washington Post:
Park ranger Margaret Anderson was operating a roadblock in Mount Rainier National Park on New Year's Day to prevent cars without snow chains from proceeding up the mountain.
What should have been a routine assignment turned deadly, authorities say, when Benjamin Colton Barnes tried to evade a stop by shooting repeatedly into the side of Anderson's patrol car. The barrage killed the 34-year-old mother of two little girls.
This was not the first violent incident of the day involving Barnes, officials said. In the first few hours of 2012, Barnes and a group of friends were playing "show and tell" with their guns when a fight broke out and Barnes and another individual are believed to have shot four people. Barnes then traveled to Mount Rainier to hide from authorities.
After shooting the park ranger, Barnes escaped into the woods; he was found hours later frozen to death, wearing only a T-shirt and jeans, with a knife, ammunition and at least two firearms, including an assault-style weapon.
Barnes apparently was an emotionally plagued young man. He served a tour of duty in Iraq in 2007 but was discharged from the military some two years later after a drunk driving incident and improper transport of a private weapon, according to The Seattle Times.
An ex-girlfriend, with whom he has an infant daughter, filed for a restraining order over the summer after describing Barnes as erratic and possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She noted that Barnes owned a small arsenal.
One photograph released by Washington state law enforcement officials show a bare-chested Barnes brandishing two assault-style weapons. Did officials follow up on the complaint or ask whether someone as apparently unstable as Barnes should be permitted to own and keep guns?
It is unclear when and how Barnes obtained the weapons, but it probably was not difficult. Washington has among the most lax gun laws in the country, requiring neither training nor permits before a purchase. The state does not compel registration and allows individuals without a serious criminal record or history of mental illness to obtain permits to carry a concealed weapon.
There is no way to know whether tougher gun restrictions would have prevented Barnes from obtaining his weapons. But it is beyond dispute that easy access to firearms can quickly turn a simple argument or difficult situation into a deadly confrontation. And this violence is not limited to the proverbial mean streets.
That terrible lesson was again imparted on New Year's Day when the life of a young woman was cut short in one of the country's most tranquil and majestic sites.