PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — David Gunn, a doctor who offered abortion care in Pensacola, was walking into the clinic where he worked on the morning of March 10, 1993, when he was shot three times in the back. Gunn died that day in a Pensacola hospital. While he was the first abortion provider targeted because he provided abortions, his killing — public and widely reported — was the first as the country began to grapple with legal abortion.
WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast. David Gunn’s story is the second in the series.
David Gunn was born in Benton, Ky. on Nov. 16, 1945. According to a letter his son wrote, Gunn was a smart kid and, once in high school, his parents pushed him to go to medical school. Gunn would go on to attend and graduate from Vanderbilt University, which is where he met his future wife, Reta. They moved to Lexington, Ky. in order for Gunn to attend medical school and he graduated from the school in 1973. Gunn received honors at his residency and became a doctor with specialties in obstetrics and gynecology.
In 1977, Gunn and another young doctor opened up their first practice in Brewton, Ala. According to Gunn’s son, the reason Gunn and the other doctor wanted to open up a practice in lower Alabama was to “serve a community suffering from one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.”
Four years after abortion was legalized, Gunn started performing abortions along with what he already was doing: delivering babies and helping with prenatal care. After moving from Brewton, Ala. to Eufala, Ala., Gunn would start traveling to clinics around the area. He would start each week in Eufala, then he would drive to Columbus, Ga., head to Montgomery, Ala., then to Mobile, Ala. and would finish the week in Pensacola, Fla.
Anti-abortion activists noticed his work. At an anti-abortion rally in Montgomery, a wanted poster with Gunn’s face on it was distributed. A reporter with The Washington Post interviewed Gunn’s employer who said Gunn had been receiving death threats for some time. On March 10, 1993, those threats became a reality.
On that Wednesday, Gunn headed to work at the Pensacola Women’s Medical Services clinic in Pensacola, Fla. When Gunn arrived, an anti-abortion rally was happening outside of the clinic. Gunn parked his car and opened his door to get out and go into the clinic. Reporters with The Washington Post said a man yelled, “don’t kill any more babies,” and three gunshots rang out.
Gunn had been shot three times in the back right outside the clinic. A medical team rushed him into surgery, but it was too late. Gunn died in the operation room. Steve Powell, an employee at a business near the clinic, said Griffin had targeted Gunn. Powell also said the protesters, “looked like they were just happy.”
“Dad was never one to shy away from engaging his patients, and I remember many nights doing my homework while he returned patients’ calls from the dining room table,” remembered his son David Gunn Jr. “Patients loved my dad not simply because he provided them excellent and quality care, they appreciated his authenticity.”
When officers first responded to the scene, they found a man named Michael Frederick Griffin, 31, who admitted he had been the one to shoot Gunn. Reporting from The Washington Post said Griffin surrendered to police without issues. Griffin was charged with murder and was placed in the Escambia County jail. At his trial, Griffin allegedly asked the congregation to pray for Gunn’s soul.
Years before Gunn was killed, two doctors’ offices and another abortion clinic in Pensacola were bombed on Christmas day. It is widely believed that Gunn’s death was, “the first in the nation’s ongoing struggle over abortion,” according to The Washington Post. As of 2015, 11 people had been killed in attacks on abortion clinics across the country.