Mass killings like the one at a South Texas church are acts of extreme violence that defy rational explanation and simple solution. They raise demands for specific steps to be taken to ban horrors that are as indiscriminate as they are depraved.
That doesn’t make this a time to mourn and shrug. America needs to deal with its propensity for gun violence. Here was another reminder.
Tens of thousands of churches across America held worship services Sunday, but it was the First Baptist Church in tiny Sutherland Springs that came under surprise attack by a heavily armed, disgraced Air Force veteran. The 26-year-old man, wearing a ballistic vest and skull face mask, murdered 26 members of the congregation, including children. The shooter was found dead in his vehicle after being chased by two heroic civilians in a truck.
America has endured so many mass shootings that people across the country were poised immediately to add the Texas incident to the raging debate over gun rights vs. gun control. It’s only been a month since Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.
Second Amendment supporters believe gun ownership is a right and guns protect. The adherents probably heard everything they needed in the incredible early news accounts from Sutherland Springs to justify their position: A church neighbor rushed to the scene with a rifle to engage the shooter, potentially saving lives. The neighbor flagged down a passing driver and they bravely took off after the gunman at 95 mph.
Gun control advocates think the country is less safe with a proliferation of guns: Assault rifles, concealed carry permits and permissive laws for firearms and ammunition contribute to the American disease of gun violence. They believe stricter controls would reduce mass shootings and carnage in Chicago and other cities.
Does either side’s argument gain sway after Sutherland Springs? We’ll see.
The Texas rampage apparently grew out of a demonic domestic dispute: The killer had been court-martialed and sentenced to military prison for assaulting his spouse and child. He received a bad-conduct discharge. He was feuding with his former in-laws and may have targeted the Sutherland Springs church because they attended there. The shooter was armed with a semi-automatic rifle and several handguns. It wasn’t clear Monday how he obtained his weapons, but the Air Force said it had failed to notify federal authorities of his conviction, which would have prevented him from purchasing firearms. The Air Force said it would investigate.
The Texas killings were incomprehensible, and the circumstances were unique. But it’s not tempting fate to anticipate more mass shootings. There will be more. That requires a response. The country can’t accept mass carnage at churches, concerts, schools, workplaces and elsewhere as a fact of life.
What to do?
Because the US Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to own guns, bans on specific weapons or other strict measures are not on the horizon. But there are steps Congress can take to reduce the opportunities for armed villains to kill. Among them:
Require background checks for every gun purchase, including those at gun shows and transactions between private parties.
Limit the capacity of magazine clips to, say, 10 rounds. That would force an assailant to frequently reload or switch weapons, buying time for victims to escape, good Samaritans to overtake him and law enforcement to arrive.
Ban “bump stock” devices that convert semi-automatic rifles into machine gun-like weapons. The Las Vegas shooter used bump stocks. In the wake of that massacre, members of Congress who support gun rights and the National Rifle Association said they were ready to consider a ban on bump stocks, thus heralding a potentially important step in the gun control debate. We haven’t heard much about that proposed federal ban since early October. Amid the sadness in South Texas, members of Congress have a promise to keep.
Nor is Springfield on the case. In late October, an effort to ban bump stocks and comparable devices died in the Illinois General Assembly.
Each mass shooting in America is its own terrible story that can’t be undone. The responsible perspective is to use the shock of the moment to take actions that will save lives in the future.
Editorial by Chicago Tribune
(Tribune Content Agency)