Commentary by Guy W. Farmer: Air races, guns and motorcycles

Northern Nevada was in the news, but not in a good way, during my 10-day family visit to Seattle last month. It seemed as if I was reading a bad news story about our area just about every day in the Seattle Times, and that was depressing.

First, there were followup stories related to last month's shocking shooting rampage at the Carson City IHOP, and family members and friends had many questions about that fatal incident.

They asked me, "How did a mentally disturbed person obtain assault weapons?" We'd all like to know the answer to that question. Police sources tell me that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is tracing the weapons to determine how the deranged IHOP shooter, 32-year-old Eduardo Sencion, obtained the weapons he used to shoot and kill four people, including three uniformed members of the Nevada National Guard, before he turned the gun on himself.

Police removed an arsenal of high-powered weapons from Sencion's vehicle including an AK-47 assault rifle, 16 ammunition magazines, and a loaded Glock 9mm pistol. If and when the ATF locates the source of those weapons, that person or persons should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law as accessories to murder.

Seattle papers also were full of news about the horrific Reno Air Race crash that killed 11 people including the 74-year-old pilot of a WWII fighter plane and several Seattle area residents; and moreover, dozens of spectators were injured when the plane crashed dangerously close to the main grandstand. Unfortunately, the air races have a deadly history with a death toll of 21 since the races resumed in Reno in 1964. In 2007 three pilots were killed in separate incidents during a four-day period.

Although I agree with my friend, former State Archivist Guy Rocha, who thinks that the air races fit the state's libertarian personality- "The culture in Nevada is we roll with the punches ... (and) take risks," he said - I urge race organizers to take measures to ensure spectator safety, like moving the grandstands farther from the race course. And the National Transportation Safety Board should consider the issue of elderly pilots flying old airplanes, which is a recipe for disaster. Apparently, the pilot lost consciousness when his souped-up P-51 came apart in flight.

And finally, the most recent Northern Nevada headline I saw in Seattle involved last weekend's motorcycle gang brawl and shootout at John Ascuaga's Sparks Nugget. This is the downside of the annual Street Vibrations motorcycle event in Reno, Sparks and surrounding communities. Gamblers dove under gaming tables as gunfire erupted at the popular casino, resulting in the death of 51-year-old Jeffrey "Jethro" Pettigrew, president of the San Jose, Calif., Hells Angels chapter. Police classify the Hells Angels as a violent criminal street gang, and believe the shootout was a clash between the Angels and a rival motorcycle gang. Police should continue their crackdown on gang activity in order to assure public safety in Northern Nevada.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is the Nevada Appeal's veteran political columnist.


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