On the evening of Dec. 7, 1993, unsuspecting commuters found themselves trapped onthe 5:33 Long Island Rail Road train to Hicksville, N.Y. with a manic gunman. Other passengers managed to subdue the shooter, a 35-year-old Jamaican immigrant named Colin Ferguson — but not before he shot 24 people, killing six. Pinned against a seat, Ferguson admitted, “I did a bad thing.” It was yet another mass shooting during a routine moment of perceived safety that again prompted renewed calls for stricter gun control — as well as renewed calls for guns, which were being purchased in record numbers for self-protection. TIME’s cover story took a look at the flurry of activism that followed:
Among activists who for years have fought for tighter gun laws, the current wave of terror presents a perfect opportunity to turn the fear of violence into a rejection of guns. Violence is out of control, they argue; guns cause much of the violence, therefore it is time to get serious about controlling the guns. President Clinton used the shooting to renew his call for tougher laws and licensing and a ban on assault weapons.