Many Ohioans went to bed on Saturday with thoughts of El Paso, Texas. Earlier, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart there, killing 20 people and injuring dozens. Then, morning arrived with word of a mass shooting at a popular Dayton bar, the toll nine dead with many wounded. These horrific episodes, at least 33 across the country this year, account for a fraction of the casualties of gun violence. Yet they leave a deep impression, in the unimaginable slaughter and the vulnerability of the victims.
Those at Walmart on weekend errands or enjoying a summer evening with friends had no idea of the devastation coming.
The same goes for those attending the garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif., a week earlier, in which a gunman killed three and wounded 13 others. All told, that adds up to 32 dead in a matter of days.
The investigation in Dayton continues, the killer, a 24-year-old student, heavily armed, in body armor, dying as city police officers responded quickly, saving many lives. Authorities in El Paso captured the suspect, and by Sunday, they were calling the shooting a domestic terrorism case and weighing whether to bring hate crime charges.
That thinking is driven by a hate-filled, anti-immigrant manifesto that appeared online just minutes before the shooting. The document warns about a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” as part of foreigners replacing white people. It calls for separating the country into territories by race. It refers to the mass murder of Muslims in New Zealand in March, leaving 51 dead, in which the killer published a similar manifesto promoting white supremacy.
There is a chilling thread through the recent mass shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif., even Charlottesville, where guns weren’t involved, one woman fatally hit by a car, but the chant at a white supremacist rally went, “Jews will not replace us.”
What about the toxic rhetoric of President Trump? He clearly has played to racial divisions and stoked fear. His administration’s treatment of migrants has departed from decency. Yet the immigration debate isn’t just a failure of presidential leadership. Congress has neglected the obvious compromise, or a comprehensive answer to spur consensus and narrow openings to inflame.
Something similar applies to the gun debate. There is no perfect solution. There may be no set of laws that would have stopped the majority of mass shootings. The point is the country, and the state, could do much better in seeking to curb gun violence, and do so without harming individual gun rights.
The Democratic majority in the U.S. House has advanced bipartisan legislation extending background checks to all gun sales. Today, roughly one-fifth of purchases proceed without such a check. Polls show a huge majority of Americans agree. Yet the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate resists this sensible step.
A year ago, John Kasich, in his final months as governor, urged his fellow Republicans in charge of the legislature to enact a handful of modest gun regulations, including a “red flag” provision allowing for the court-approved temporary removal of guns from those deemed a threat to themselves or others. The legislative majorities balked. They express more interest in easing the requirements to carry a concealed weapon and expanding the concept of “stand your ground.”
Gov. Mike DeWine has called for a “red flag” law, too. The idea goes to enacting a collection of small and responsible measures to slow the killing, from safe storage requirements to public health research and banning “bump stocks,” which deliver the traits of a machine gun. Then again, the country has been here before — with the hope this grim weekend will result in action.