Shooting Texas

In this Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, photo Crystal Harris, George Guerrero, and Curtis Patterson light candles in the shape of a cross on the ground of UTPB's quad in Odessa, Texas, to remember those who were killed in a shooting Saturday. (Ben Powell/Odessa American via AP)

We still don’t know all of the details about a tragic shooting that left seven people dead and injured at least 25 others in Odessa, Texas, on Saturday. We still aren’t entirely sure how this tragedy might have been prevented.

But there were apparently a lot of “red flags.”

Various reports from neighbors and coworkers recounted incidents of troubling behavior or violence from the shooter. He had a criminal record and had reportedly failed a federal background check in an earlier attempt to buy a weapon.

And yet a clearly deranged man managed to obtain a weapon designed to kill lots of people as quickly as possible, and on Saturday he used it for that purpose.

This is the sort of worst-case scenario that demands modest reforms in our gun laws. We cannot let dangerous people have such easy access to deadly weapons.

But these same reforms could do much more to prevent the more mundane but no less tragic gun violence that claims 40,000 American lives each year.

We must start with universal background checks. No other gun laws matter much if people can still easily obtain weapons without even the briefest review of their public records to check for past criminal behavior.

Background checks also must be made more effective by closing the waiting period loophole and better ensuring that reports from different law enforcement agencies are kept organized, up to date and accessible.

And more states, including South Carolina, must implement versions of “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement to step in and temporarily confiscate guns from the homes of people who pose a clear, demonstrable threat to themselves or to others.

Red flag laws do not give police carte blanche to start rounding up guns, but they allow intervention under the supervision of a judge in extreme circumstances.

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These laws would do more to stop gun suicides than mass shootings, but that doesn’t make them any less urgent. Suicides make up the majority of gun deaths in the United States each year. That’s a tremendous public health failure that must be addressed.

Closing gun purchase loopholes, implementing universal background checks and allowing “red flag” interventions all have wide, bipartisan public support, including among gun owners. Only political cowardice has prevented broader adoption of these measures.

In a nation with more guns than people, no combination of reforms is likely to completely stop gun deaths. But sensible adjustments could undoubtedly stop some shootings, some of the time.

Perhaps that might have been enough to spare heartache for the families and friends grieving seven victims in Texas or some of the many thousands more who have lost loved ones to gun violence already this year.

Expand and strengthen background checks, and keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

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