Last Friday began as just Black Friday, but this one was darkened by a shooter inside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. After the smoke cleared, three people, a police officer and two "civilians" had been slain, and another nine wounded. Instead of celebrating the joys of the holiday season, a dozen families will have the grief, the terror, the unanswered questions spawned by yet another senseless shooting.
As of this writing, we only have hints and suspicions about what thoughts led the shooter to arm himself with an AK-47 assault rifle and open fire in the Planned Parenthood office. Some have theorized this was attempted suicide by cop, but his surrender makes that improbable. The place that the shooter chose suggests that the attack was directed at the clinic and its clients. We don't know how much effect the heavily edited, deceptive videos allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the price of fetal organs had on the shooter; we do know that the shooter reportedly muttered "no more body parts," to officers as he was being arrested.
In the days since this tragedy took place, a picture of the shooter has begun to develop: He drifted across several states in the South, had several run-ins with local police, was arrested on charges ranging from animal cruelty to being a Peeping Tom, and his then-wife filed a complaint (but no charges) against him for domestic abuse. His neighbors described him as a loner. This profile closely matches those of other mass shooters. Yet he had no difficulty obtaining the military assault weapon he used to terrorize a city.
On Saturday, President Obama said of the killings, "This is not normal. We can't let it become normal." Obama was incorrect: The very sad fact is that it is normal, in the sense that these events have become commonplace and the nation has become desensitized to them. In the three years since the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012, there have been around 80,000 gun deaths, at least 142 school shootings, and about a thousand mass shootings. Our response to this carnage has been mostly hand-wringing. Gun rights advocates say there is anecdotal evidence that guns in the hands of "good guys" would have stopped this "bad guy." Last Friday's shooting is one more in a staggering number of anecdotes where a deranged, determined killer succeeds in holding off a well-armed, well-trained police force. If dozens of cops can't stop a killer, how would the rest of us do so?
A recent Pew Research Center survey reports that 85 percent of all Americans, including 79 percent of registered Republicans, favor expanded background checks for obtaining firearms. Almost 80 percent favor legislation to keep firearms out of the hands of people with mental illness and, by a 3 to 2 margin, we want a ban on the type of assault weapons used last Friday in Colorado Springs.
A CBS News survey completed at the end of October, the same month in which a mass shooting claimed 10 fatalities in Roseburg, Oregon, (how many of us even remember that one, I wonder) showed that 58 percent of Americans favor stricter laws covering the sales of guns, and 92 percent favor a federal law requiring universal background checks on all potential gun buyers.
But where is the political will to stand up to the gun lobby? When politicians make a point of proudly supporting the NRA, they stand in opposition to the wishes of the majority of the nation's electorate. More importantly, they stand in the way of taking action to stop the bleeding on the streets and in shopping centers, movies, schools and homes.
Even such sane ideas as one first proposed by former Republican President George W. Bush to ban gun sales to people on the federal no-fly list run into stone-wall resistance. NRA propaganda says it favors gun safety. How can they keep as straight face when they oppose legislation to keep guns away from the most unsafe people of all, suspected terrorists?
No right is absolute: freedom of speech doesn't extend to incitement to riot; the right to vote doesn't extend to felons in prison. The right to own firearms should not extend to suspected terrorists or the mentally ill. The sooner we get past the antiquated idea that everyone can walk around with a pistol in his pocket, the better our society will be.
Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at email@example.com