Now that police have apprehended Radee Prince, the man accused of killing three co-workers, injuring two others and later shooting a sixth man on Wednesday, we may get some answers about what would lead someone to unleash such a murderous outburst. Mr. Prince had been accused of workplace violence and threatening behavior before, and he reportedly had a dispute with the Delaware man he is accused of shooting later on Wednesday morning. Whatever the explanation is, it is certain to be unsatisfactory. Nothing but madness could prompt such evil.
But one question for which we should be able to get a concrete answer is how he got the gun. He should not have been able to.
Mr. Prince was convicted in 2003 of 15 counts of third-degree burglary and was sentenced to 25 years in prison with all but two suspended. Under federal law, anyone convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year in prison is ineligible to purchase a firearm. Maryland law considers any felony offense — which includes third-degree burglary — a disqualifying crime, making possession of a firearm illegal. Delaware law also prohibits the purchase or possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
In 2015, Mr. Prince was pulled over in Cecil County for driving with a burned-out headlight, and when he acted belligerently, the officer initiated a search of his car and found a handgun, resulting in multiple weapons charges. They were later dropped for reasons county officials have yet to explain. In addition to the laws against possession of a gun by a felon, it has long been illegal in Maryland to carry a gun in the car without a concealed-carry permit.
How did Mr. Prince get the gun he is alleged to have used Wednesday? It could be a stolen weapon, of course, but the laxity of federal and some state gun laws afford other possibilities as well. The federal law requiring background checks for gun purchasers doesn’t apply to private sales, like many of those at gun shows. Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania all require such checks for all handgun sales, but some other nearby states do not. Another common way for guns to wind up in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them is through so-called straw purchases, in which a person who is eligible to buy a firearm does so from a legitimate dealer and then gives or sells it to someone who isn’t. Maryland has sought to limit that practice by requiring handgun purchasers to be licensed and fingerprinted, but most states lack such laws.
Not coincidentally, more than half of the guns used in crimes in Maryland come from other states, according to a 2014 gun trace analysis by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They come predominantly from places with looser regulations, such as Virginia.
Given the massive number of guns in circulation in this country — estimated at more than one for every man, woman and child in the United States — it may never be possible to ensure guns never wind up in the wrong hands. But we shouldn’t allow lax gun laws to make it easier. If Congress managed to allow mass killings like those in Sandy Hook, Conn., Orlando and, so far, Las Vegas, pass without significant new federal restrictions on gun sales, we can’t imagine this latest shooting will make a difference. But it should.
This case also exposes another weakness in our laws: the idiocy of cash bail. Delaware officials said Thursday morning that Mr. Prince was being held there on $2 million bail. Who on earth believes that, should he somehow be able to post a bond for that amount, the public would be safe as a result? Decisions about who is released before trial should be based solely on the risk a defendant poses to public safety or the likelihood that they will flee before trial, not whether they have access to money.
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