A memorial outside the television station Roanoke, Va., for the two journalists killed on Aug. 26. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

THE SUSPECT in Wednesday’s fatal shooting of two television journalists during a live broadcast in Southwest Virginia was apparently inspired to lash out by June’s racially motivated church massacre in Charleston, S.C., a fact that only compounds both tragedies.

On their own, the calculated murders of reporter Alison Parker and camera operator Adam Ward, and the injury of Vicki Gardner, who they were interviewing, were horrific. The claim of shooter Vester Lee Flanagan II to be avenging the deaths of the innocent African American victims in Charleston makes it even more obscene. Trying to help alleged Charleston shooter Dylann Roof start the race war he so desired is a brutal attempt to violate the legacy of Charleston and an affront to the principle that Americans can, over time and with effort, build an ever-more cohesive, inclusive, multi-racial society. We would say that his actions sully the memory of Charleston’s victims and demean the dignity of their surviving families and friends — except that Mr. Flanagan was of too little account to do either.

Moreover, though Mr. Flanagan, who authorities said died of a self-inflicted gunshot, seemed to have tried to justify his unjustifiable actions by referencing race, the rambling note he apparently sent to ABC News also praises mass murderers such as the Columbine school shooters and Virginia Tech killer Seung Hui Cho, suggesting that the underlying problem was an armed, attention-seeking, pathological grudge-holder.

Perhaps the most productive response to this madness was from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who used the opportunity of yet another high-profile shooting to point out that the nation’s gun laws, and those in his state, are deeply irrational. We don’t yet know where Mr. Flanagan got the weapon used to gun down Ms. Parker and Mr. Ward. We certainly don’t know if the gun-control measures that Mr. McAuliffe or other would-be reformers favor would have prevented Wednesday’s deadly attack. But it doesn’t matter. Tragedies such as these remind us of the easy, brutal efficiency that guns bring to the business of killing.

The dramatic shootings that make the news remind us that guns are not noble instruments of freedom; they are highly dangerous machines that have some legitimate uses and many illegitimate ones. Any rational government would carefully regulate them. Instead, our leaders have declined to fix obvious loopholes in background-check systems, refused to ban wholly unnecessary high-capacity magazines, thwarted efforts to study the effects of having a society saturated with firearms and generally cowered before the lobbying might of a political fringe.

In January the National Rifle Association helped kill a bill in Richmond that would have barred toddlers from using guns because it would have imposed “an arbitrary minimum age at which a person would be allowed to receive firearms training.” A separate package of measures Mr. McAuliffe backed would have barred those with protection orders in abuse cases from owning firearms, and it would have required background checks for sales at gun shows. It also failed.

These and other measures might not have prevented Wednesday’s tragedies. But they could prevent others. Congress must act. And if not Congress, then state leaders who want to finally do something about the gun-fueled carnage.