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Saturday, July 31, 1999 Published at 07:59 GMT 08:59 UK

World: Americas

Atlanta shootings spark gun debate

Police sealed off area after shootings

America is again debating the issue of gun control following the Atlanta shootings which left nine people dead.

Murder in Atlanta
The First Lady Hillary Clinton has suggested that further measures might be needed, though President Clinton has refused to commit himself to any new position.

But in the city where the killings took place, Atlanta, the main newspaper has strongly urged more control of guns.

Amateur trader Mark Barton went on the rampage in the city, shooting dead nine people before turning his gun on himself. Earlier in the week he had killed his second wife and two children.

In an editorial called Guns and Madness, the Atlanta Constitution aligned itself behind moves for more gun control.

A civilised society, it said, protected itself by laws not guns. The problem is though that the American idea of gun control, especially handgun control, is simply to stop the young, the criminal and the insane from getting them.

Hillary Clinton said as much when she was asked for her reaction, and she is regarded as somewhat radical.

Clinton under fire

But her husband, President Clinton, has kept his counsel. He is known to think that defeating the powerful National Rifle Association and the Republicans over this might take an election or two, and it is shaping up to be an election issue.

[ image: All-Tech: One of the firms targeted]
All-Tech: One of the firms targeted
But even after all the recent shootings, Congress is still debating and not yet deciding on a series of very limited measures only.

In a BBC interview on Friday, Hollywood star and president of the National Rifle Association Charlton Heston said that it was vital that Americans retained their right to bear arms.

He denied more legislation was needed. Instead he blamed President Clinton for failing to ensure that the existing 22,000 gun laws were properly enforced.

Mr Heston blamed the Atlanta shootings on a "maladjusted person".

Barton vowed vengeance

Brian Barron reports: "Evidence has emerged that the massacre was carefully planned"
Police are trying to piece together the motive for Barton's shooting spree. Notes he left behind revealed that he was out to kill "the people that greedily sought my destruction."

Barton was an amateur trader who had reportedly lost $105,000 on the stock market.

Click here to read excerpts of the letter

Momentum Securities said he had posted the loss during 15 days of trading at its Atlanta office, where he went on his shooting spree.

Listen to extracts from a call made to Atlanta's emergency services
The securities company said Barton had lost around $105,000 while trading on its computer system between 9 June and 27 July. But it said the chemist turned trader had enough money to cover his losses.

On Thursday Barton walked into the offices of the All-Tech Investment brokerage firm and opened fire with two handguns, a .45 calibre and 9mm semi-automatic.

Click here to see map

Just before shooting at All-Tech, Barton reportedly told the firm's employees before pulling the trigger, "I hope I won't ruin your trading day."

He then continued the shooting spree at Momentum Securities in a nearby building.

Nine people were killed in the shootings, and 13 were injured, with three of the wounded in critical condition Friday.

After a manhunt lasting several hours, police cornered Barton in his van where he shot himself, ending a killing spree that had begun Tuesday when he bludgeoned his wife to death.

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