Mall Shooting Alabama

In this still image taken from a video, April Pipkins holds a photograph of her deceased son, Emantic "EJ" Bradford Jr., during an interview in Birmingham, Ala., on Nov. 27. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

The Galleria mall in Hoover, Alabama, a Birmingham suburb, seemed as much a carnival as it was a shopping center. It opened on a Wednesday in February 1986, two weeks after the space shuttle exploded. The size of big-city airport, it was the biggest in the Southeast, in an era when malls were muzak cathedrals for the Me Generation.

The killing of a young, black man there on Thanksgiving night takes me back, and it makes me wonder what it means to the debate about runs and race in Colorado.

I sold shirts and ties at Parisian, one of the Galleria's four high-end anchor clothing store. For opening day we filled it with Coca-Cola-labeled apparel -- that was inexplicably a big thing, millennials -- along with acid-washed jeans and Swatch watches.

An hour north of Selma and 21 years from Bloody Sunday, the three swans in the Galleria logo gave the veneer of moving on.

Hoover was the southern gate of white flight out of Birmingham after the collapse of the steel mills in the 1970s. Corporate headquarters were flocking to the newly built suburbs outside the tired city for the cheap taxes and grateful labor. Hoover had it made.

All these years later, my mind went to the exact spot, to the inch, where Emantic Bradford Jr. drew his last breath. Two other people were shot at the Galleria that night, and cops and chaos ensued. The series of events apparently unrelated to him, except for his gun, led to his death seconds later.

Bradford had a license to carry a gun in a state that doesn’t require you to conceal one. The 21-year-old former soldier and son of a cop had the pistol at his side, the authorities eventually said. The family's lawyer said he was trying to usher others to safety. The first cop he encountered shot him dead. An autopsy showed he was three times in the back.

He was a good guy with a gun, by all accounts. He also was a young black man with a gun. 

His mother said she believes if he were white he would have been given the benefit of the doubt. She didn't say it, but perhaps she meant the way James Holmes, with his orange hair and booby-trapped apartment, was left unharmed after the Aurora theater shooting in 2012.

Circumstances vary, so those dots are hard to connect, but one son is dead and the other was spared death that night and later by the courts.

The Bradford case got messier as the story unfolded. At first Hoover police said it was Bradford who wounded an 18-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl who was just a bystander. The cop was the good guy with the gun, they said.

Then they said Bradford wasn’t the shooter, but he was involved in an altercation somehow. Then police said he wasn’t involved in any of that. But he wielded a gun in a tense situation.

"We can say with certainty Mr. Bradford brandished a gun during the seconds following the gunshots, which instantly heightened the sense of threat to approaching police officers responding to the chaotic scene," the department then said in a statement.

Then they walked that back, saying on Facebook, “Earlier, we stated that Mr. Bradford 'brandished' a gun. To clarify, the word 'brandish' was used because Mr. Bradford had a gun in his hand as police officers responded to the active-shooter situation between mall patrons.”

For at least a week after, no suspected shooter was in custody even though the giant mall had brought in extra cops to help  manage Black Friday crowd. While they were taking down and blaming an innocent man, the real assailant slipped out with the crowd.

This relates to Colorado, and not just because we’ve had a fair share of racially charged fatal encounters between law enforcement and people of color.

This wounds a theory that will be argued at the Colorado Capitol when the new -- and more liberal -- General Assembly convenes in January.

Democrats are likely to have something to say on gun violence. And Democrats will control the House, Senate and governor’s office or the first time since 2014.

I expect to see, at a minimum, a red-flag gun bill, to allow the authorities to take weapons from those deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others. I also expect an outright ban on assault rifles or similar weapons this year or next.

Lawmakers tried that at the end of the last session. When Rep. Cole Wist co-sponsored it, gun advocates and some of his fellow legislative Republicans turned against him. He was supported by Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who prosecuted Holmes and tried in vain to get the death penalty.

Both Republicans live in the district where cops were ambushed at an apartment complex last year, and Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish was killed. The shooter, Matthew Riehl, was known as a threat to cops.

Brauchler ran for state attorney general and both he and Wist were voted down.

Expect money and influence to flow into the Capitol over guns. In 2013 two key Democrats, Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, were recalled, and Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster resigned as gun groups were turning in her direction.

This cauldron was already politically hot, and now it takes on racial overtones about who should be allowed to safely carry a gun. Bradford was denied that right with a death penalty. 

The National Rifle Association presents the “good guy with a gun” argument as a way to reason to arm more people against attacks. But the NRA was mum for at least a week about the shooting of the good guy in Alabama.

Rolling Stone magazine declared in a headline:  "The ‘Good Guy With the Gun’ Is Never Black.”

The scars of the Old South still bleed, it can seep into Colorado’s corridors of power.

Is that political baggage the gun lobby here dreads or welcomes in the era of Donald Trump? We shall soon see.

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