CONTRIBUTORS

July 4 mass shooting drives home how much America has left to do on gun reform

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS)
Law enforcement members pick up items left behind by parade goers including an American flag along Central Avenue on July 5, 2022, the day after a mass shooting at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Every mass shooting in America is a tragedy, but the one that killed seven people near Chicago Monday was especially jolting, as it combined two singularly American phenomena: the nation’s annual celebration of its independence and the chronic scourge of gun violence at a level unheard of in the rest of the advanced world.

Why was a 21-year-old man who had posted violent imagery glamorizing mass shootings able to legally buy a weapon of war and at least 70 rounds of ammunition, and take it to a rooftop over a July 4 parade? That ludicrous scenario was as uniquely American as the parade itself.

The bipartisan, better-than-nothing gun safety measure President Joe Biden signed into law late last month might help prevent future shootings like this when it’s fully implemented (it isn’t yet), because it will create expanded background-check requirements for gun buyers between ages 18 and 21. But the attack also dramatizes, in several ways, what remains to be done.

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For example, the reason authorities were able to so quickly identify the alleged shooter was that the AR-15-style rifle he left behind was legally purchased, with a serial number that allowed federal authorities, working with local police, to trace it to the seller and, from there, obtain the buyer’s identity. But the new federal law doesn’t close a loophole that allows buyers to avoid federally licensed dealers who keep such records, instead buying anonymously from private sellers in states that don’t impose universal background checks.

Had the shooter bought his gun in Missouri, for example, he could have bought it anonymously from a private dealer who wouldn’t be required to keep records of the transaction. Even tracing the serial number might have been a problem in Missouri because such tracing is done by the feds. Missouri’s deranged new statute declaring federal gun restrictions unenforceable here has local police officials hesitant to work with federal law enforcement at any level for fear of inadvertently violating that law.

Nationwide restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines — like the restrictions on fully automatic weapons that have worked well for decades — could prevent some of these shootings, as could truly universal background checks and a nationwide red flag law to replace the current patchwork of state laws.

There is no constitutional impediment to reasonable gun restrictions, as even the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia specified in his role as the court’s most adamant Second Amendment enthusiast. There are only political impediments, imposed by an extremist minority of lawmakers and judges who block even the most commonsense reforms.

The ultimate reform must start at the voting booth. Until that happens, America will continue to be held hostage every day — even on its birthday — by those who insist, wrongly and grotesquely, that nonstop carnage is the price of freedom.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS)