Before the last ambulances pulled away from the carnage at a Walmart in El Paso and an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, fingers of political blame already were being pointed.
It’s not unexpected given the current environment. The mix of assigning responsibility based on party affiliation is hardly new; nor is the effort to deflect from the suspects’ motivation.
If politics are to be injected into the discussion, they should not focus solely on personalities or party affiliation, but in the failure to act by our elected leaders to address the all-too-frequent mass shootings.
Red-flag laws, supported by the governors in Texas and Ohio, failed to earn passage in the legislature of either state this year. The legislation would identify people with mental health issues or other disorders that would make them a threat to society and prohibit them from purchasing a gun.
Gov. Greg Abbott spoke in favor of such a measure after the deaths of 10 people at Santa Fe High School last year, and President Donald Trump called for Congress to take up such legislation in the aftermath of the shootings last weekend.
Bipartisan bills passed by the U.S. House in February would go hand in hand with red-flag legislation by expanding background checks. One bill would require gun dealers to wait up to 10 days for a person’s background check to clear, while the other would prohibit person-to-person gun transfers without a background check being done.
Both have sat idle in the Senate since their passage.
It is possible such laws could have prevented the carnage we saw over the weekend by keeping the gunmen from getting their hands on the assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips used in the assaults.
In El Paso, there is little doubt based on his manifesto the accused gunman drove 600 miles from his Dallas-area home to where he knew there would be a large percentage of Hispanics to target. The 21-year-old long harbored a hatred for Hispanic immigrants, fearing it would lead to Democrats gaining control of the state, and made those feelings known through social media.
Based on his postings, he clearly posed a hate crime threat.
In Dayton, the 24-year-old man police say carried out the deadly shooting spree as people enjoyed a Saturday night out has a far different story. While his social media postings showed his support for Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and criticized Republicans, politics didn’t seem to play a role in his actions.
Friends going back to middle school said he just had a sick fascination with wanting to kill people.
A woman who attended middle school with him said he once said he fantasized about tying her up and slitting her throat, according to the Dayton Daily News. He knew it wasn’t normal, she told the newspaper, and they talked extensively about him getting psychiatric help.
His high school principal confirmed they once had to institute a lockdown because the accused killer wrote a list of girls he wanted to kill on a restroom wall. He learned his gunmanship not from video games, but by participating in Junior ROTC.
A high school classmate, Demoy Howell, described “sensing a dark energy around him,” the Dayton Daily News reported.
“I think this is less of a hate crime and more of an ‘I hate everybody’ crime,” Howell told the newspaper. “I honestly feel more comfortable now knowing that he’s gone.”
These two assaults with completely different motivations could have been thwarted if politicians had the courage to act. Red-flag laws and a reasonable expansion of background checks will allow responsible gun owners access to firearms while keeping them out of the hands of people whose history demonstrates they pose a threat to society.