Tragedy demands gun checks

Authorities investigate the scene following a shootout Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, in San Bernardino, Calif. Multiple attackers opened fire on a banquet at a social services center for the disabled in San Bernardino on Wednesday, killing multiple people and sending police on a manhunt for suspects. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The tone in President Barack Obama’s voice was one of resignation as he spoke Thursday morning about the mass shooting that killed 14 and wounded more than 20 people in San Bernardino, Calif., the day before.

Resignation is a feeling that too many of us have when it comes to the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.

It’s tragic. It’s horrific. It’s unique among all nations on earth. And yet we have been powerless to do anything about it.

In the wake of Wednesday’s shooting, a much-repeated statistic points out that there has been an average of more than one mass shooting per day in the U.S. so far in 2015. The San Bernardino tragedy was the second mass shooting in less than a week, following a Nov. 27 attack at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs that killed three and wounded nine.

But even at such a shocking rate, mass shootings — defined as having four or more victims — are only a tiny fraction of gun violence.

More than 33,000 Americans were killed by guns in 2013, the last year for which data are available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

No clearer evidence is needed that gun violence is a public health and safety concern that must be addressed.

The four guns — two assault rifles and two semi-automatic handguns — that Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik used when they attacked a holiday banquet for San Bernardino County employees were all purchased legally. They carried at least 1,600 rounds of ammunition and wore tactical gear.

The ease with which people can purchase such deadly weapons must be addressed. So should the broader legality of some firearms and supplies which serve little if any responsible recreational or self-defense purpose.

But stricter background checks must be required for gun purchases, and people who clearly should not have access to deadly weapons should be prevented from buying them.

To that end, a bill in Congress that would prevent people on the FBI terrorist watch list from purchasing guns or ammunition deserves approval.

The legislation stems from a Government Accountability Office report released in March that found that more than 2,000 firearms sales were approved for purchasers on the list between 2004 and 2014.

The FBI watch list notoriously includes too many perfectly innocent people, and the process of having one’s name removed in a case of mistaken identity is too complex. Those are problems that need to be addressed.

But we as a nation are nonetheless comfortable making it significantly harder for those on the watch list to board airplanes. There is no reason it shouldn’t be similarly difficult for them to buy guns.

And if driving a car — an activity that also kills far too many Americans — requires months of training, and an ongoing licensing and registration, then there is no reason we can’t require something similar for guns.

It’s not an inconvenience, but rather a responsible way to protect public safety.

Based on current trends, it will only be a matter of days before the next mass shooting somewhere in the United States.

We must respond not with resignation, but with determination.