This Day In History: March 10

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Dr. David Gunn is shot and killed during an anti-abortion protest at the Pensacola Women’s Medical Services clinic. Dr. Gunn performed abortions at several clinics in Florida and Alabama and was getting out of his car in the clinic’s parking lot when Michael Griffin shouted, “Don’t kill any more babies!” and shot the doctor three times in the back. Griffin then surrendered to a nearby police officer.

Griffin had attended a prayer service and protest organization meeting three days earlier and was apparently waiting for Dr. Gunn, the father of two, to appear on the morning of the shooting. Rescue America, the group holding the protest, did not exactly strongly condemn the murder of Dr. Gunn. “While Gunn’s death is unfortunate, it’s also true that quite a number of babies’ lives will be saved,” said national director Don Treshman after the slaying.

The murder of Dr. Gunn was part of a larger emphasis on violence by anti-abortion activists in the early 1990s. Death threats, vandalism and arson at abortion clinics increased dramatically. Rachelle Shelley Shannon began corresponding with Griffin while he was in prison. The man who she called “the awesomest greatest hero of our time” did nothing to dissuade her from then going out and attempting to kill a doctor in Wichita, Kansas. Her shots wounded, but did not kill, and Shannon was arrested and convicted.

Paul Hill, an activist who went on the Phil Donahue Show and called Dr. Gunn’s murder a “justifiable homicide,” attended Shannon’s trial and then got into the act himself. He killed Dr. John Britton and James Barrett in Pensacola, Florida in July 1994. Hill was sentenced to death but never expressed remorse for his crime.

In response to this terrorism, both states and the federal government passed new laws protecting abortion clinics.