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Twenty-five years ago this week at Jamaica Station in Queens, Colin Ferguson boarded an evening Long Island Rail Road train headed from Penn Station to Hicksville. As the train approached the Merillon Avenue Station in Garden City Park, Ferguson pulled out a pistol, a 9 mm semiautomatic holding 15 rounds, and opened fire. When Ferguson’s magazine was empty, he replaced it with one of his three backups and resumed firing. Six people were killed. Nineteen were seriously injured. Long Island was shattered. And the nation was shaken by the shooting in a way it no longer is.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Ferguson, now serving a 315-year sentence upstate, was 35 when he launched his attack. His privileged childhood had devolved into an adulthood of failures. He came to the United States in 1982 and married an American woman in 1986, but the marriage quickly faltered. Ferguson bounced from one low-paying job to another and attended Nassau Community College and Adelphi University, causing trouble at both. He blamed his problems on racism. He hated white people. He was scary and offensive and erratic. And early in 1993, while in California for a few months, he paid $400 for a pistol he applied for using a recently acquired California driver’s license, and got his gun after a 15-day waiting period. Then he came back to New York, and wreaked havoc.
The trial was bizarre, with Ferguson representing himself after firing famed lawyers William Kunstler and Ron Kuby. They wanted to claim he was temporarily insane, consumed with “black rage.” His own deluded defense was that his gun was stolen after he brought it on the train by someone who then did the shooting.
The killings helped usher in some changes in gun laws that, unfortunately, didn’t last. In 1994, spurred partly by the LIRR killings, Congress outlawed magazines holding more than 10 rounds, and assault weapons. But that law expired in 2004.