We must talk now about pre­vent­ing fu­ture mass shoot­ings

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - ERICA GRIEDER Com­men­tary

On Nov. 5, Devin Pa­trick Kel­ley en­tered the First Bap­tist Church in Suther­land Springs and be­gan shoot­ing. By the end of his ram­page, 26 peo­ple were dead and 20 more were in­jured — many of them se­ri­ously.

This wasn’t the dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in Amer­i­can history. That hap­pened six weeks ago in Las Ve­gas at a coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val. But Suther­land Springs, an un­in­cor­po­rated town south­east of San Antonio, will be re­mem­bered as the site of one of the worst mass shoot­ings in mod­ern Texas as well as an un­usual one, in cer­tain re­spects. In re­cent years, Amer­ica has ex­pe­ri­enced enough mass shoot­ings that these tragedies and the re­ac­tions to them have come to seem grimly rou­tine. The dead are tal­lied. Their mur­derer is iden­ti­fied. His so­cial me­dia pro­files are scru­ti­nized for clues about the be­liefs or ex­pe­ri­ences that warped his soul and cost his un­sus­pect­ing neigh­bors their lives.

Democrats sug­gest that maybe it’s time we talk about gun vi­o­lence or an even more po­lar­iz­ing topic: gun con­trol. Repub­li­cans scold them for try­ing to politi­cize the lat­est round of blood­shed be­fore the bod­ies left be­hind have even grown cold.

Two things about the Suther­land Springs shoot­ing, how­ever, may make it pos­si­ble for us to re­spond to this tragedy with a se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion about how to pre­vent the next one rather than an over­heated and po­lar­ized de­bate — if we’re will­ing to try.

The first is that the car­nage was in fact ended, thank­fully, by a good guy with a gun. Stephen Wille­ford, a neigh­bor of First Bap­tist and for­mer Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion in­struc­tor, grabbed his ri­fle and ran across the street after his daugh­ter called to tell him that she heard gun­fire at the church. He con­fronted Kel­ley, who tried to flee

the scene, and pur­sued him after en­list­ing the help of a stranger who was driv­ing by, John­nie Lan­gen­dorff.

By the time po­lice caught up with them just min­utes later, Kel­ley was al­ready dead, hav­ing been shot in his leg and torso then killed by a self-in­flicted gun­shot wound to the head.

Sec­ond, although Texas has a rep­u­ta­tion as an ag­gres­sively gun-friendly place, it’s ac­tu­ally not the state’s fault that Kel­ley had ac­cess to guns in the first place. His ser­vice in the Air Force ended sev­eral years ago with a de­mo­tion and dis­charge for bad con­duct after serv­ing a year in a mil­i­tary prison for beat­ing his then-wife and frac­tur­ing his tod­dler step­son’s skull. Per state law, he was there­fore not el­i­gi­ble for a li­cense to carry. Gov. Greg Abbott told CNN on Mon­day that Kel­ley had ap­plied for one any­way, and the state rightly re­jected it. An­other loop­hole

What en­abled this mass shoot­ing, in other words, wasn’t our state or fed­eral gun laws; it was lack­adaisi­cal en­force­ment of the lat­ter. Per fed­eral law, peo­ple con­victed of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence are barred from pur­chas­ing firearms in the first place. Kel­ley was nonethe­less able to pass a back­ground check be­cause the Air Force failed to sub­mit the in­for­ma­tion about his con­vic­tion to the Na­tional Crime In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter’s data­base.

This is an over­sight that oc­curs fre­quently enough that it’s prob­a­bly cor­rect to call it a loop­hole, and sev­eral Repub­li­cans have joined Democrats in do­ing so. Sen. John Cornyn told CNN on Tues­day that he is work­ing on leg­is­la­tion that would im­prove the mil­i­tary’s re­port­ing rates, which are cur­rently, as he put it, “stag­ger­ingly low.”

Cornyn added that the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, on which he serves, is look­ing into whether the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives has the authority to reg­u­late bump stocks, which can be used to mod­ify semi-au­to­matic weapons and were used accordingly to such dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect in Las Ve­gas. ‘Go­ing to hap­pen again’

Those ideas are not even con­tro­ver­sial from a con­ser­va­tive per­spec­tive. It’s a shame, then, that some of Cornyn’s peers re­main as fa­tal­is­tic as ever, re­luc­tant to en­gage with any of the ques­tions or con­cerns that all mass shoot­ings raise.

Last Sun­day, in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the shoot­ing, Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton ap­peared on Fox News and weighed in: “This is go­ing to hap­pen again.”

“I wish some law would fix all of this,” he con­tin­ued, be­fore dis­miss­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that some law, such as the ones that Cornyn and oth­ers have pro­posed, might ad­dress any of it. Pax­ton of­fered an al­ter­na­tive pre­scrip­tion. More Tex­ans should bring their guns to church, in the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s opin­ion: “There’s al­ways the op­por­tu­nity that the gun­man will be taken out be­fore he has the op­por­tu­nity to kill very many peo­ple.”

Abbott, in an ap­pear­ance on Fox News the fol­low­ing day, en­cour­aged ev­ery­one to keep things in per­spec­tive.

“Look at what hap­pened with Hitler dur­ing the hor­rific events dur­ing that era,” the gover­nor said.

Mus­solini, he con­tin­ued, was also a bad ap­ple, and “hor­rific” things hap­pened in the Mid­dle Ages, to boot.

“Evil is some­thing that has per­me­ated this world,” Abbott said. “And that force of evil must be com­bated with the force of good that is of­fered by God.”

I don’t dis­agree with that, but I’ve been go­ing to church my whole life, and I’ve never heard any­one sug­gest that God’s plan pre­cludes us from tak­ing cer­tain com­mon­sense pre­cau­tions against the force of evil, such as clos­ing well-doc­u­mented loop­holes in our ex­tant gun laws.

That be­ing the case, it would be nice to see Cornyn’s fel­low Repub­li­cans sup­port his ef­forts here. If that’s a bridge too far, I hope we can all at least agree that it’s not ac­tu­ally true that there is lit­er­ally noth­ing we can do to ad­dress the prob­lem at hand.

Democrats some­times dis­miss the role that prayers may play in the heal­ing process for a com­mu­nity, like Suther­land Springs, that has suf­fered such an over­whelm­ing blow; in my view, they shouldn’t. With that said, I can un­der­stand why some Amer­i­cans, in the wake of such an event, might pray for a leg­isla­tive branch that leg­is­lates. Ev­ery­thing’s a weapon

It may be im­pos­si­ble to end mass shoot­ings once and for all in a coun­try where gun rights are en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion and supported by most Amer­i­cans. We should, of course, re­mem­ber that the un­der­ly­ing cause of gun vi­o­lence is that there are peo­ple who are driven to use the tools at their dis­posal, what­ever they are, to cause harm; on Nov. 1, a man in New York killed eight peo­ple and in­jured 11 us­ing a truck. Ul­ti­mately, we may not even be able to re­li­ably min­i­mize the num­ber of peo­ple an ag­grieved in­di­vid­ual has the “op­por­tu­nity”, as Pax­ton put it, to kill.

But we don’t re­ally know that, do we? On Dec. 14, 2012, a young man in New­town, Conn., killed his mother, then got in her car and drove to Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School, where he killed 20 chil­dren and six adults. That mass shoot­ing re­sulted in an an­guished de­bate about fed­eral gun laws — which were, in the end, not changed at all.

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