That they were murdered in cold blood at their workplace on Friday afternoon is another sign that our society is not functioning properly in the face of an awful scourge. Mass shootings at schools, newspapers, concerts, nightclubs and factories have become a threat to public health and safety in the United States, an epidemic of violence resulting in hundreds of deaths every year. Would the nation’s politicians be mute and paralyzed if, say, 199 people were killed by food poisoning, a defective toy, or an automobile part malfunction? That is the number who have died in mass shootings so far this year (along with 643 nonfatal gunshot wounds), according to one group that keeps track. Sadly, sensible gun control generates headlines for a few days after each massacre, but then nothing happens.
The reason for this inaction is no mystery: Politicians are intimidated by a gun rights movement, led by the National Rifle Association, that has for too long stood in the way of action. There are promising signs that this year’s crowded field for the Democratic presidential nomination might generate some long-overdue commitment to gun control, and some Democrats in Congress are devoting fresh attention to the crisis, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has suggested is a national emergency. But the hour is late. The answers are not rocket science: universal background checks for gun purchases; banning semiautomatic assault rifles, which are weapons of war; putting limits on high-capacity magazines, which allow mass shooters to take more and more lives (these magazines were used by the Virginia Beach shooter) and other measures.
The authorities in Virginia Beach announced they would say the shooter’s name only once. No doubt, many mass shooters may have been motivated by the perverse attraction of media notoriety, and so it will be interesting to see if this well-intentioned move has any impact, given today’s relentless and intense news and social media environment.
But something greater must be done. The Virginia Beach shooter put a sound suppressor on his .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol so that the death shots were muffled, perhaps denying others the warning that would have allowed them to escape. It is long past time to remove the silencer that seems to suppress action on gun-control legislation, to treat mass shooting as the epidemic it is, and do everything possible to save lives.