EDITORIAL: U.S. gun violence: Let's not pretend nothing can be done
In the wake of the worst mass shooting in American history, a catastrophic assault that left at least 59 people including Shippensburg wrestling coach Bill Wolf Jr. dead, it is a time for mourning.
But it is also a time for cold, sober reflection regarding the nation’s gun culture and policies.
Sunday night's horrific attack on a crowd of country music fans in Las Vegas, which also left more than 500 injured, was, by one estimate, the 270th mass shooting in the United States this year.
While few rise to the level of the carnage allegedly perpetrated by a 64-year-old Nevada resident from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, the daily death toll nonetheless boggles the mind. More than 90 Americans die every day at the muzzle of a gun.
So, despite predictable assertions like that of Trump administration spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders that now is not the time to discuss the issue, for the hundreds of Las Vegas victims and their loved ones, it is already past time.
But first, let’s get some answers. The Las Vegas massacre represented a significant change in tactics: Both the arsenal the gunman assembled (some 23 mostly high-powered weapons, including stands to steady the firing) and the location from which he fired (32 floors above and across the street from the crowd of 20,000 that had gathered for a country music festival) contributed to the horrendous number of victims.
How did the gunman gather so many weapons? And how did he come into possession of an automatic weapon? Did he modify a semi-automatic firearm, which remains legal? Did he steal one of the hundreds of thousands of pre-1986 automatic weapons that remain legal? A black market sale?
If officials are going to prevent or minimize future such attacks, they need to know what they’re dealing with.
And what, if anything, motivated the killer? His background, at least initially, has yielded little in the way of red flags. That, in its own way, is frightening.
But let’s not pretend there’s nothing to discuss, or that now is not the time. In fact, it is time not just for talk but for congressional action.
For instance, the work of determining the chain of events and motive in Las Vegas will undoubtedly be hampered by the lack of solid, up-to-date research on the causes of gun violence. That’s because Congress, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, stripped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s funding for research on gun violence, then passed a law preventing the agency from spending any funds to advocate or promote gun control.
We should be at war with potential mass murderers, not sound research. Congress must reverse these provisions.
Additional long-overdue steps should also be taken. Three obvious measures:
- Universal background checks enjoy support from four-fifths of all Americans, Democratic and Republican. They will reduce – not erase, but reduce – the number of guns falling into the wrong hands. Pennsylvania is considering such a law. The federal government should do likewise, then act.
- Legislation to ban purchases of guns or ammunition by people on the terror watch list failed last year. Bring it back and succeed in passing it this year.
- Forfeiture of all guns by anyone under an order of protection is a measure that, sadly, might have saved lives in recent years in and around York County. Make it happen.
Yes, none of these measures would have prevented the carnage in Las Vegas. That’s not the point. Las Vegas was an explosion of the type of carnage we have become numb to because it occurs on a daily basis. We cannot continue to shrug our shoulders and chalk off mass killings, as did disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, as “the price of freedom.”
Seat belts do not eliminate car-crash fatalities; they reduce them. There is no single or simple solution to eliminating gun violence in America. But we must take steps to reduce it.
So let’s get answers to what happened in Las Vegas. Let’s take advantage of low-hanging legislation that would at least begin to curb the epidemic of gun violence in this country. And let’s return to funding research that can help police, medical professionals and lawmakers understand and better combat the contributing factors that lead to going-on 100 fatalities a day.
Let’s see to it that the next mass shooting – and there will be a next one – adds to our understanding of the issue and not just to our tragic national body count.