Two of the people injured in the Dec. 7, 1993,...

Two of the people injured in the Dec. 7, 1993, Long Island Rail Road shooting are treated on the platform in Garden City. Credit: Raia

On Dec. 7, 1993, the Long Island Rail Road was struck by an infamous act of carnage. Colin Ferguson, paranoid and filled with racial hatred, opened fire on passengers he did not know on a 5:33 p.m. train out of Penn Station.

At the Merillon Avenue station in Garden City, Ferguson, 35, used a Ruger P89 semiautomatic pistol he’d purchased legally in California to murder six passengers and injure 19, matter-of-factly, one at a time, as he paced up the aisle. Riders bravely tackled him as he reloaded. In February 1995, after a controversial ruling that he was mentally competent, Ferguson represented himself in court, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Shortly after the attack, President Bill Clinton said he asked Attorney General Janet Reno to review proposals by then-New York City Mayor-elect Rudy Giuliani and Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, both Republicans, to establish a national gun registration system. One can only guess how many lives might have been saved in the 30 years that have passed had comprehensive, common-sense regulation been enacted. But the federal government does not maintain a general registry of handgun or rifle ownership, which Second Amendment champions fought off as unconstitutional.

One year after Ferguson’s attack, Congress created the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. It barred the manufacture, transfer, or possession of what were defined as “semiautomatic assault weapons.” But 10 years later, the act was permitted to expire. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sought a vote to reauthorize that ban on Wednesday, but the move was blocked by Republicans.

Another key sign of how the politics have changed: Carolyn McCarthy’s husband Dennis died in the LIRR attack, and her son Kevin was severely injured. Propelled by her quest for effective gun controls, she served in Congress from 1997 to 2015.

On the state level, there has been sporadic progress toward red-flag laws and sensible restrictions. Even the current U.S. Supreme Court, which last year expanded the interpretation of constitutional rights to keep and bear arms, indicates it will uphold laws to keep guns away from domestic abusers. In New York, gun groups are still fighting in court to knock out the state’s amended permit laws.

A grim bottom line remains.

After Ferguson, now 65 and held in Mid-State Correctional Facility, slews of random mass murderers have followed in his deranged footsteps. As of Nov. 30, there have been 619 shootings in America of four or more people, excluding the shooter, the most ever in one year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Another spasm of shooting took place Wednesday at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. From 2015 to 2022, more than 19,000 people were shot and killed or wounded in a mass shooting, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

We wish we could point to a positive law-and-order epilogue to Ferguson’s deadly spree. But it wouldn’t be truthful.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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