The details are different, but the story is the same: A killer with access to military-style weaponry mows down innocent Americans in cold blood. On Sunday it was apparently a self-radicalized Muslim who murdered 49 patrons of a gay nightclub in Orlando. In 2012, it was a mentally ill man with the same type of gun who killed 26 at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Next, who knows?
It makes no more sense to blame Islam for the Orlando shooting than it would to blame mental illness for the Sandy Hook massacre. The common thread and decisive factor in those and so many other mass shootings was the availability of powerful semiautomatic weapons that serve no purpose but to kill. It’s not likely the nation will ever be free of malcontents, whether they’re homophobic religious zealots or unstable nuts. But it could be free from the guns that enable them to do so much harm, so easily.
The weapon used in Newtown and Orlando, the AR-15, must be banned for civilian use, along with other military-style guns. The assault rifle ban, passed under President Clinton but allowed to expire under George W. Bush, must be restored permanently. It would not stop all killings. But it would make it much harder for lone-wolf terrorists and troubled young men to equip themselves for mass carnage. The government should forbid the sale of guns to individuals on the terror watch list. There also should be no sales allowed of any weapon without background checks, even if the purchase happens at a gun show.
Those ideas are not new and have widespread support, but opposition from the gun lobby has repeatedly thwarted them. Still, the outrage is growing, and the dam will have to burst eventually. Even reasonable hunting enthusiasts and Second Amendment advocates agree that every constitutional right has a limit. As more and more Americans suffer the impact of gun violence, the pathetic response of politicians — “thoughts and prayers,” anyone? — cannot endure forever.
Which of our political leaders have the courage to lead the revolt against gun apathy? Some political figures, like presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, have sought to turn the discussion to foreign policy, and the need to combat ISIS. Fighting the terrorist group is a good idea in its own right, just as providing better mental health services — another common promise politicians make to evade questions about guns — would make sense anyway. But neither will cure America of the gun violence that reaches into churches, movie theaters, schools, offices, and now nightclubs. There is no shortcut: If we want fewer gun victims, we need fewer guns.
Correction: Authorities revised the death total in the massacre, from 50 to 49, on Monday morning.