Atlanta murders: Reckless gun laws may have played a role | COMMENTARY

People hug outside Youngs Asian Massage where four people were shot and killed on March 17, 2021 in Acworth, Georgia. Suspect Robert Aaron Long, 21, was arrested after a series of shootings Tuesday night at three Atlanta-area spas left eight people dead, including six Asian women.  (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

Tuesday’s attack on several Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead has renewed concerns about violence directed toward Asian Americans amid the pandemic. The 21-year-old charged in the shootings is white, while six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent. And studies have shown a significant uptick in hate crimes against Asian Americans in large U.S. cities linked to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and often amplified by white nationalist supporters who describe COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” or “Kung Flu.” But there’s another element in these attacks that deserves scrutiny, and it, too, represents a broad and persistent problem in this country. The man charged in these attacks — the worst mass shooting in the U.S. in nearly two years — purchased a firearm the same day police say he went on his rampage.

Robert Aaron Long, the man charged with eight counts of murder, reportedly strolled into a Cherokee County gun store on Tuesday, put down his money, passed an instant background check and walked out of the store with his weapon. There was no waiting period. There was no mandatory safety class. There was simply a transaction that experts say might have only taken minutes to complete. Voters are more closely scrutinized in Georgia (and Peach state Republicans are currently bent are making voting stricter still). Women seeking to terminate a pregnancy are more inconvenienced by the state’s 24-hour waiting period intended to prevent impulsive decision-making.


Would a waiting period have prevented this horrific crime? It’s impossible to know for sure. But here’s one observation made after the suspect’s arrest that ought to be remembered: When asked about the shooter’s possible motivation, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker said the young man was “having a really bad day.” That suggests Mr. Long was acting impulsively and argues for putting reasonable restrictions on gun sales to address this very possibility. How often do domestic arguments escalate to the point where a quick trip to the local gun store is suddenly a real possibility? How about for those contemplating suicide?

Yet despite this threat of impulsivity, only 10 states and the District of Columbia currently impose waiting periods for all purchases of all firearms, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Maryland imposes a seven-day waiting period for handguns only. There is no federal waiting period.


Clearly, part of the problem is that states have markedly different attitudes toward gun violence prevention. And, like so many other policy choices, it often comes down to Democratic-leaning states versus Republican-leaning states. Perhaps if states were fortresses, this would be perfectly fine. People can make the decision that on-demand guns are worth the price of mass shootings, suicides and other hot-blooded killings. The problem is that people are mobile, and guns purchased outside Maryland often find their way into the hands of the wrong people. Nearly one-third of guns used in Maryland crimes originate from out-of-state purchases, according to a federal database.

That argues for not just Georgia to get its act together but for the federal government to set some minimum standard. Would a waiting period prove an annoyance to hunters, target shooters and others accustomed to picking up a new firearm on a lark? Probably. But studies have suggested it would also have this impact: an 11% reduction in firearm suicide rates and a 17% drop in gun homicides. The choice is obvious.

The U.S. Senate remains a likely roadblock, however. Just last month, the Democratic-run Maryland General Assembly had to override a veto by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to give final approval to legislation simply mandating background checks for private sales of rifles and shotguns. One can only imagine the outcry from Senate Republicans over similar legislation.

But wait, you won’t have to imagine much longer: Democrats in Congress are already pushing for some modest gun safety measures, including H.R. 8, which passed the House last week and requires background checks for private gun sales, and this week’s House renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which bans convicted stalkers from acquiring firearms. None of this is gun “grabbing” or a violation of Second Amendment rights or whatever contrivance opponents care to claim. Elected officials who think otherwise ought to take a few days to talk to the victims of gun violence before they act precipitously and allow more lives to be put in grave danger.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.