AP NEWS

Another mass shooting

May 1, 2019

There’s been another mass shooting in America. This one Tuesday at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Two students were killed and four other people injured. But nationally the tragedy has barely registered on the mass media Richter scale.

It’s not just that people are still trying to digest the Chabad of Poway synagogue mass shooting in Southern California, which just three days earlier left a woman dead and three other people injured. It’s also that mass shootings are occurring so frequently in this country and the responses to them are so tepid that too many people have started to accept them as an unfortunate fact of life — like bad traffic or hot weather.

We blame Congress and state legislatures for not doing more to reduce the carnage, but our representatives in government are just that — representatives. Their actions represent the will of the public. If that were not so, more incumbents would lose elections for their inaction. Without a more insistent directive from voters to pass better laws, politicians typically succumb to special interests bearing gifts in the form of campaign donations.

Special interests have stood in the way of change even when the country seemed hell bent on shaking things up. Consequently, little changed after a shooter killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University in 2007; after 20 children and six staff members were killed at a Newtown, Conn., school in 2012; after 49 people were killed at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub in 2016; after 58 were killed at a Las Vegas music festival in 2017, and also that year after 26 victims, including an unborn child, were killed at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

These mass murders had nothing do with any related criminal activity. The attacker in most cases had no relationship with his victims. The ties that bind these mass shootings and others: a gun was used to exact maximum carnage and the gunman appeared to be mentally unstable. Yet, America’s gun laws remain largely intact and large gaps in the nation’s mental health system still exist.

The National Rifle Association, whose leader since 1991, Wayne LaPierre, was reappointed Monday, has for decades beat back any attempt to significantly change gun laws at either the federal or state level by characterizing them as attacks on the Second Amendment. The NRA’s clout may be weakened by an internal fight, which led to the ouster of Oliver North as its president after he tried to get rid of LaPierre, but its grip on lawmakers from Austin to Washington remains firm.

That won’t change until enough voters let their representatives know they believe the Second Amendment would survive restrictions placed on the types of guns people can buy, how many they can buy at a time, or a requirement that lost and stolen guns must be reported, or that background checks should be mandatory with each gun purchase. Elected officials unwilling to act out of fear of the NRA are inviting more gun violence.

In that same vein, lawmakers shouldn’t let a different interest group dissuade it from making the right move. Advocates for the mentally ill have justifiably complained that the NRA after each mass shooting tries to draw attention from weak gun laws by citing the shooter’s apparent mental state. The advocates point out the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean mental health shouldn’t be part of the discussion.

Both the shooter at UNC Charlotte and Chabad synagogue have been described as disaffected young men who were not suspected of having homicidal thoughts. Is it possible that earlier intervention could have prevented the deaths they secretly sought?

Schools across America are training teachers and other staff to recognize the signs of a student having a mental crisis and intervening hopefully before he has a chance to act out with a gun. Outside a school setting it’s not only more difficult to recognize who needs help, but also how to get it to him.

That problem goes beyond trying to prevent mass shootings. It’s at the root of long-standing deficiencies in America’s mental health network that have allowed too many people to fall through the cracks. Mental health advocates are right to object to the NRA’s trying to scapegoat the mentally ill after each mass shooting, but that shouldn’t keep them from pushing Congress to make a bigger investment in mental health.

The adage that it takes a village to raise a child also applies to preventing mass shootings. The decision to kill is the shooter’s. But all of us — from voters to mental health advocates to gun owners — must try to do more to limit the carnage.