August 19, 2019
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Shootings rooted in hatred and anger, but access to guns makes them possible

Evan Vucci | AP
Evan Vucci | AP
President Donald Trump speaks about the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington on Monday.

Once again Americans are shocked and are mourning mass shootings. This weekend, 31 people were killed and dozens injured in shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

Once again, the president addressed the nation and called for an end to the slaughter.

President Donald Trump’s brief speech was remarkable both for what it included — a condemnation of white supremacy — and what it did not — a call for further action on background checks, for example.

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said in a Monday morning address from the White House. “These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”

These are strong, welcome and, unfortunately, surprising words coming from a president who holds rallies where people threaten violence against perceived opponents and who suggested that four congresswomen, who are American citizens, should go back to the countries they came from.

We hope they indicate an awareness that hate-filled rhetoric — no matter who utters it — must be called out and stopped.

[A mother died shielding her infant in El Paso. The father died shielding them both, family says.]

Trump also had an appropriate somber tone about the recent mass shootings, but his suggested solutions fall short by not placing enough emphasis on gun access.

“These barbaric slaughters are an assault upon our communities and [an] attack upon our nation and a crime against all of humanity,” Trump said. “We are outraged and sickened by this monstrous evil, the cruelty, the hatred, the malice, the bloodshed and the terror.”

He then vowed to act with “urgent resolve” and laid out five actions that he said must be taken.

First, was to work with the FBI, state and local authorities and social media companies to identify mass shooters and to act on “early warning signs.” Second, the president, blamed the glorification of violence in video games and called for a “culture change.”

The president also called for improved mental health treatment, including the involuntary commitment of individuals and he touted “red flag laws,” which allow firearms to be taken from individuals identified to pose a grave risk. Maine passed such a law this year.

Finally, Trump said he would persue the death penalty for those who commit hate crimes and mass murder.

He did not mention expanding background checks or any other measures to target access to guns, although he tweeted about them Monday morning. His speech also did not mention tying federal legislation to restrict gun access to immigration, another thing he proposed.

The president — and many other policy leaders — are right that reducing gun violence in the United States will take a variety of approaches. But we are concerned that emphasizing mental health solutions is too often a means to reduce attention on other parts of the equation, especially easy access to firearms.

The rates of mental illness in the U.S. are not dramatically different from the rest of the developed world. Yet, these other countries, notably our neighbor Canada, have far fewer gun-related deaths than the U.S.

[Opinion: Two days, two mass shootings — just another weekend in America]

The U.S. stands out for its rate of gun ownership.

Simple math shows that guns must be part of any discussion of preventing mass shootings.

The U.S. already has an important system of background checks — the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — but it has not kept pace with technology and has too many loopholes. For example, too many records never make it into the federal database. As a result, people who are prohibited from buying and owning firearms have been allowed to purchase them and some have committed mass shootings. Last year, Congress passed a bill to offer financial incentives to state and federal agencies to add more data to the system. This is helpful, but not a full solution.

Private gun sales, whether in person or online, do not require a background check. An effort to close this loophole was defeated at the ballot box in Maine in 2016. Still, requiring that nearly all sales go through the background check system — with sensible exemptions in cases such as gun transfers between family members — makes sense.

The president called on all Americans to ensure that this weekend’s death are not in vain. This means we must support a variety of solutions, including a more complete system of background checks for gun purchases and better screening and treatment for mental illness, among other steps.

We don’t naively think this time will be different, but we aren’t so pessimistic to believe that weekend slaughters must remain part of American’s fabric.

 



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