“YOU NEVER expect something like this,” said one official about Sunday’s mass shooting in the small Texas community of Sutherland Springs. “Unimaginable,” said a man whose parents were among the 26 people killed , along with a pregnant woman, an 18-month-old baby and a 14-year-old girl.
Among the awful truths of what happened Sunday morning in a place where no one locks their doors is that gun violence is not unimaginable anywhere in this country. Mass shootings have become commonplace, and shootings far more so: Guns kill more than 30,000 people every year and injure roughly 80,000 more. Just as there was a last time (an outdoor musical festival a little more than a month ago in Las Vegas) and a this time (a rural Texas church), there will surely be a next time unless national lawmakers come to grips with the problem and take meaningful steps to stem the obscene and unfettered access to weapons of war.
The gunman in Sunday’s slaughter at the First Baptist Church was able to buy a military-style semiautomatic weapon despite a troubled history that included being kicked out of the Air Force for bad conduct and being jailed for assaulting his wife and breaking his infant stepson’s skull. Not “a guns situation” was the rather incredible assessment of President Trump who, taking a page from the diversionary playbook of the national gun lobby, framed the problem as one of mental illness.
No doubt the angry young man who stormed the church in a ballistic vest was, as the president said, “deranged” with “a lot of problems.” But imagine what would have happened if he had been deranged — and armed with only a knife? What if, at least, he had had to stop and reload?
There is no way to prevent all shootings, but steps can be taken to reduce the carnage, as has been proved by sensible and effective gun control in other countries that also must contend with issues of mental health. After every high-profile mass shooting — at a movie theater in Colorado, a college campus in Virginia, a parking lot in Arizona, an elementary school in Connecticut — Congress is beseeched to serve the American public rather than the National Rifle Association. Lawmakers are asked not to prohibit guns but to enact common-sense safeguards: muscular background checks, keeping guns away from domestic abusers, banning weapons designed for battlefields.
So far, Congress has refused. That dereliction is what is truly unimaginable.