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Opinion After Uvalde, I pray with the grieving — and for bold action on guns

A woman cries at a prayer service at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde, Tex., on May 25 for the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)
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The culture war — intent on leaving no human emotion unsoiled — has even invaded our grief.

Some mock “thoughts and prayers” in response to a school shooting as the expression of pious impotence. Why doesn’t someone actually do something to prevent the mass murder of children? Why waste our efforts appealing to a silent or absent God?

But the closer you get to inexplicable tragedy, the more prayer takes on a sad salience. After the massacre this week in Uvalde, Tex., the Getty Street Church of Christ welcomed people who came to pray. One local pastor, Marcela Cabralez, first made sure her two grandchildren were safe before offering comfort at the Hillcrest Memorial funeral home, where parents and surviving children had gathered. Some children were screaming; others seemed catatonic. “Cabralez said she started to pray,” The Post reported, “with some of the children repeating after her.”

It is an honor to join in such prayers.

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Yet it is deeply frustrating that case after case of mass murder passes without meaningful public response. The reaction of a working political system to the Buffalo and Uvalde murders would be to exhaust the most promising policy approaches.

What principle of constitutional self-government requires that the permissible age to purchase an AR-15 should be 18 rather than 21? A recent ruling out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the right of 18-year-olds to buy what most of us would call “assault weapons.” Its reasoning? “America would not exist without the heroism of the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army.”

In fact, the enlistment age for the Continental Army was 16 — just 15 with parental consent. Some served at age 14. Is this a sufficient legal and historical basis to allow young teens to purchase nearly military-grade weapons in 2022? This type of “originalism” is indistinguishable from idiocy. Why should one of the rites of passage for every 18-year-old include access to tremendous firepower?

While we’re at it, why not strengthen and tighten federal background-check laws? We know these measures have kept millions of guns out of potentially dangerous hands. But other massacres have revealed loopholes in the law that Congress has every reason to close.

And why not pass national “red-flag” legislation, which would allow law enforcement officers to confiscate weapons from people whom a court deems dangerous to themselves or others? Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have such laws, with varied degrees of success among them. But they are being used. Florida has invoked its law more than 5,800 times since passing it in 2018.

We don’t have enough information to know whether this type of law would have prevented the Uvalde murders. But it seems possible that a bullied, socially isolated dropout with increasingly erratic and violent behavior and a disturbing social media presence could have been noticed as a threat.

Honestly, I don’t know how effective any of these three ideas — reducing the permissible age for gun sales, strengthening background checks and passing a national red-flag law — would be in the prevention of mass shootings. But I know that none of them are remotely unconstitutional. And I know that a healthy legislative process would pass these laws, closely monitor their effectiveness, consider improvements to strengthen them, and then examine other promising ideas that emerge and pass other legislation.

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This process would certainly be more useful and humane than placing impossible burdens on parents (left to consider faddish foolishness such as bulletproof backpacks) and children (subjected to terrifying active-shooter drills in which flashing sneakers are supposed to attract deadly attention). What we face is a public policy problem. It demands originality, boldness and perseverance from legislators. And they are currently being watched and judged.

The most difficult aspect of this difficult problem is a dark myth that lies at its heart. There is a plausible (but not, to me, compelling) argument that serious, semiautomatic firepower is useful for hunting — leaving your elk, I suppose, pre-tenderized. Others make the case that the protection of hearth and home from invading criminals requires rapidly fired munitions that seem more suited to the Donbas battlefield. Others argue that any regulation of guns amounts to an elitist attack on their unique culture.

Still others assert that high-powered weapons must be kept in the hands of American citizens — weapons that can easily depopulate a classroom, a church, a synagogue, a movie theater or a grocery store — to be used against the American government when the moment for revolution arrives. In this argument, the protection of children and minorities from harm takes a back seat to the treasonous insanity of ersatz patriots. This could be a prodigious source of American bloodshed. And it is truly frightening.

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