Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 at a Florida high school, was able to legally purchase an AR-15 assault rifle designed with the capability of mass slaughter. Does President Trump or Congress need to hear any louder alarm — yet again — that the nation’s gun laws are woefully, recklessly, lethally inadequate?
Three of the nation’s worst mass shootings — Las Vegas (58 dead), a Texas church (26) and now Florida (17) — have occurred in Trump’s year-old presidency. Yet nothing’s happened on even the easiest steps such as banning bump stock devices that allow automatic fire. The White House is mute, save for stock platitudes about thoughts and prayers and something must be done about mental health.
President Trump’s talk about mental health rings hollow. One of his first actions as president was to cancel an Obama-era ban on gun purchases by those with serious mental health troubles.
This country is swimming in a deadly ocean of more than 350 million guns, far more than any other nation, making controls difficult. But there are sensible measures that can limit the dangers of firearms and put them out of reach for the wrong people. Let’s take away the means of allowing a deranged individual to carry out his fantasies of inflicting mass carnage on the world he is isolated from.
Here are starting points:
• Background checks can keep firearms out of the hands of unstable or violent people. Close the loopholes that allow sales at gun shows and private exchanges without any background checks at all.
• Trump must reinstate the Obama-era ban on gun purchases by people with serious mental health problems. He needs to do it now.
• Research on what works and doesn’t sounds obvious, but Congress has repeatedly blocked money to study the topic under pressure from the gun lobby. This is inexcusable.
• In one truly insane illustration of the laxity of U.S. gun laws, suspected terrorists who were deemed too grave a threat to board an airplane are allowed to legally purchase firearms capable of performing mass destruction.
• Assault rifles do not belong in this country’s streets — or elementary schools or churches or college campuses or movie theaters or concerts, to name a few sites of recent massacres. Congress should reinstate the assault weapons ban that was allowed to expire in 2004 due to politicians too timid to take on the gun lobby.
“I’d rather pass gun safety legislation than win the election,’’ said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. In the short run, she urged Congress to drop a prohibition on funds to research gun violence. Even that tame step faces long odds on GOP-dominated Capitol Hill.
For Pelosi, such a stand is hardly courageous in San Francisco. The tougher votes must come from members of the House and Senate facing close races, especially in rural areas where gun owners are suspicious of where tighter regulation might lead.
The worst reaction of all is for our so-called leaders to timidly shrug at the futility of enacting new gun laws — like one that would have prevented Cruz from purchasing a new AR-15, or that even today allow people to purchase bump stocks such as the one that wreaked devastation on a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas.
Don’t lose that outrage, Americans. Demand action.
President Trump and Congress need to treat this epidemic of mass shootings with the courage and resolve it merits. Instead, they are terrorized and debilitated by an absolutist gun lobby that is willing to accept these ever-escalating American acts of madness as the price of its dogmatic definition of freedom.
This commentary is from The Chronicle’s editorial board. We invite you to express your views in a letter to the editor. Please submit your letter via our online form: SFChronicle.com/letters.
Originally published at www.sfchronicle.com on February 16, 2018.