IN A chilling photo on a Web site, accused murderer and racist Dylann Roof stares into the camera while holding a Confederate flag. Since he allegedly shot nine African American worshipers to death at a historic Charleston, S.C., church, the country has been wrapped in debate about what the old battle flag symbolizes and whether it should be displayed anywhere outside a museum.
Yet Mr. Roof has something in his other hand that the country should be more focused on: a handgun.
“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency,” President Obama said.
That point should be now.
It’s easy to feel discouraged after the failure of a major federal gun control bill in 2013. Sympathy for victims of gun violence was at a peak after Adam Lanza, a mentally deranged man who should not have had access to firearms, killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), neither of whom can be accused of being anti-gun, negotiated a compromise bill that would have fought gun trafficking and tightened background check requirements for purchases. The policy was modest. The result was depressing. Senate supporters fell six votes short of the required 60.
Adding to the feelings of defeat is the sense that many of the gun-control policies that seem politically feasible wouldn’t necessarily have stopped the country’s most spectacular mass shootings. Mr. Lanza used his mother’s gun collection. Mr. Roof apparently didn’t set off alarms in a background check.
None of the defeatism is warranted. Mass shootings draw attention to the nation’s relationship with guns. They should spur us to action because they demonstrate the easy, efficient horror that guns are capable of inflicting, and they make us wonder about permissive gun policies. But Mr. Roof is not the real face of gun violence in the United States. Gun violence is an everyday problem that has many faces: Abusive husbands who fly off the handle; kids who accidentally shoot their friends — or themselves — while playing with their parents’ weapons; criminals who find it too easy to get illegal guns.
Public policy can’t prevent every gun death. But it can do a lot more than it is now: make it harder for the mentally ill, family abusers or criminals to obtain and keep firearms; crack down on gun trafficking; require proper gun storage; and reconsider laws that seem to encourage people to use guns in situations they consider threatening. Mr. Manchin and Mr. Toomey appear ready to get behind another federal bill. They should. State lawmakers need to get on the ball, too.