Advertisement

America’s deadly weekend: The guns

America’s deadly weekend: The guns
Law enforcement officials investigate the scene where a gunman opened fire on a crowd of people over night on Fifth Avenue in the Oregon District on August 4, 2019 in Dayton, Ohio. In the second mass shooting in the U.S. within 24 hours a gunman left nine dead and another 27 wounded after only a minute of shooting. (Matthew Hatcher / Getty Images)

On Sunday afternoon, after two mass shootings in less than 24 hours took 29 lives in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, National Public Radio host Michel Martin asked a representative of the gun industry whether that level of violence was acceptable. He bristled. “No gun violence is acceptable to me,” Larry Ward, the chief marketing officer of Gun Dyanmics said. “You know, quite frankly, the idea that question is asked is part of the problem. It’s not that gun violence is acceptable to anybody on either side of this issue.”

But if that sounded like a promising start to a conversation about the absurd profusion of guns in our society, including the military-style weapons used in both of this weekend’s massacres, think again. The moral of these two shootings, Mr. Ward said, is that we need more guns in more places. In El Paso, the shooting took place at a shopping center, a “gun-free zone," he said, and the assailant was able to kill 20. (That is, apparently, not actually true; the El Paso police chief says the suspect was well within his rights to walk into a Walmart with an assault rifle under Texas’ open carry laws.) The Dayton shooting, Mr. Ward noted, was stopped in under a minute by police who shot and killed the suspect. “The difference is ... there was a good guy with a gun in Dayton,” he said.

Advertisement

We suppose, then, that there is an answer to the question of what level of violence is acceptable to the gun industry. Nine killed and more than 20 wounded, some critically, in under 30 seconds — a feat only possible because the assailant in Dayton was using an AK-style rifle with a 100-round drum magazine — is acceptable to the gun industry because police were able to engage and kill him before he could swap in one of the other 100-round magazines he had with him, enter a bar and kill untold more people. The 20 killed in El Paso, then, must have been unacceptable, not because their lives are any more valuable than those in Dayton but because there happened not to be an armed police officer on the scene — or for that matter a bevvy of armed, untrained civilians ready to open fire and confuse police about who the assailant is.

President Donald Trump tweeted Monday morning that we cannot let these 29 people “die in vain” and said “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks.” In remarks later from the White House, he at most alluded to the idea, saying “those judged at grave risk” for violence should not be able to get guns and that those who have them already should face confiscation of their weapons.

We certainly support making background checks truly universal, if that’s what President Trump meant, and we also support red flag laws, provided they are at least as strong as the one Maryland enacted. But those measures are no panacea — it doesn’t appear that either would have made a difference in the cases of the El Paso and Dayton shooters, neither of whom had criminal records that would have tripped up a background check. A strong federal assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines might not have stopped either of this weekend’s attacks, but they would have made them less deadly. Such weapons fire bullets at greater velocity, making the injuries they cause more deadly, and they are designed to allow a shooter to fire more rounds more quickly and more accurately than handguns. Extending background checks to shotguns and rifles is a must, and so is a national system for gun purchaser licensing like Maryland and several other states have. Sen. Chris Van Hollen has long pushed legislation in Congress to incentivize states to adopt licensing requirements, which researchers at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere have shown to be profoundly effective in reducing gun violence and suicides.

Even then, the United States would be awash in more guns than any country on the planet. Guns would still find their way onto the streets of Baltimore. Madmen bent on mass killing would still find ways to get one of the millions of assault rifles that are already in circulation. (Just how many are already out there, no one knows.) Rep. Eric Swalwell’s proposal to create a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons has merit.

But first things first: Two background check bills have passed the House and are sitting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk. One would require background checks for private sales of firearms (closing the so-called gun show loophole) and another would extend the period of time firearms dealers have to wait for a background check before they can sell a gun to 10 days. (Currently, if the background check isn’t complete in three days, the dealer can sell the gun without further delay.) There is no excuse for the Senate not to pass both immediately.

Advertisement
Advertisement