A sniper's steely legacy

This story originally was published on July 13, 1989.

The seven guns that Charles Whitman carried to the top of the University of Texas Tower in 1966 in a bloody rampage that left 14 dead and 31 wounded are being offered for sale by a Dallas-area gun collector.

The sale of the three rifles, one shotgun and three pistols has brought back painful memories for some, but at least one of Whitman's shooting victims said he recognizes the historical value of the firearms and does not begrudge the dealer his profit.

For the gun dealer, Wayne Buxton of Richardson, the advertisement he purchased in a gun collector's publication has brought an annoying amount of attention and curiosity.

Buxton had told editors of Shotgun News, which has run the ad in three issues of the three-times-a-month publication, not to give his name or phone number to callers interested in finding out who owns Whitman's guns. But the post office box number given in the classified ad was tied to Buxton by the Austin American-Statesman.

Buxton said he did not want to discuss what the ads call The Whitman Collection because "there's too much pain in the state of Texas" associated with the killings.

"I have no interest whatsoever in resurrecting pain or any sad feelings, " he said. "It's a source of pain to certain people, and I don't want to get into that."

He described the pain as "a function of time," noting that the pistol used to kill President Lincoln is now a tourist attraction in a museum in Washington, D.C. "But there's no pain involved" in the Lincoln assassination weapon because sufficient time has passed, he said.

Buxton would not reveal how he obtained the weapons, or how long he has owned them.

The ad offers the guns, a radio, binoculars, cameras and a knife for $7,500, or in trade for historical Winchester rifles or Colt pistols. Also included are a 1966 Life magazine that featured the slaughter as a cover story, and legal documents that Buxton said prove the authenticity of the items.

Robert Heard, an Austin author who in 1966 was seriously wounded by Whitman while covering the massacre for the Associated Press, said of the sale, "They are of historical value. It doesn't bother me. I don't begrudge him the deal."

Buxton also said the weapons have legitimate historical interest. "That particular act brought to the forefront the entire concept of a SWAT team," he said.

He said he was perturbed by the phone calls he has received and had hoped to avoid publicity. "I'm not interested in having crazies call me," he said.

"I don't know what all the hoopla is."

George Phifer, now an assistant police chief and in 1966 one of the lieutenants in charge of the mass murder investigation, said Wednesday the hoopla started immediately after the shootings, and has abated little.
"These things happen from time to time, with a catastrophe-type incident," said Phifer.

"The aftermath became somewhat unusual, in that people were trying to find souvenirs," he said. "People were finding bullets in town and were trying to sell them."

Phifer said he understands why some people want the guns for their historical significance. "That does appeal to certain individuals," he said.

But for himself: "I would like to see them locked away and forgotten about.

"It was such a terrible incident in the life of the city of Austin that we don't need constant reminders."

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