So inured has this country become to mass shootings that when another person with a semiautomatic weapon goes on a rampage, we’re conditioned to focus on reactions, rather than root causes.
In the case of an incident in Northern California on Tuesday, we feel gratitude that quick action by school officials saved children’s lives, that police acted heroically and that this time only five people were killed.
Yet what ought to be foremost is rage at the refusal of lawmakers to take action that might prevent these needless tragedies - and a renewed demand for sensible gun-control regulations, including a ban on assault weapons and comprehensive background checks with better enforcement.
The latest carnage came just a little over a week after the slaughter of worshipers in a rural Texas church and just 45 days after 58 people at an outdoor music festival were gunned down in Las Vegas. The California gunman, having killed his wife the night before, went on a 25-minute shooting spree in which he killed neighbors with whom he had long quarrelled, shot randomly at people and stormed an elementary school. Five people died, and 10, including a child at the school and another on his way to school, were wounded.
Teachers and staff at Rancho Tehama Elementary who herded and locked children into classrooms must be commended. The same goes for the police who chased and killed the gunman. But that doesn’t answer the question of why those quick-thinking teachers were forced to face such fearful circumstances or what needs to be done to prevent other children from feeling the terror of having to hide under their desks from gunfire.
The killer was known to authorities. He had been arrested in January and was out on bail on charges that he stabbed a neighbor. There was a restraining order against him. There had been complaints about him firing rounds for days before Tuesday’s events. And there had been a call to police about domestic violence. Family members said he had a history of mental illness and episodes of rage. Yet there he was - a poster child for someone who shouldn’t have guns - wearing a ballistic vest and equipped with at least a semiautomatic rifle and two handguns.
How did that occur? The shooter had been ordered by a court in April to surrender all his firearms. Was there a breakdown in the system? “There must be,” the killer’s sister said, “some gates on people like this from getting guns. This is the same story we’re hearing more and more.” Sadly, though, it is one that has yet to register with Congress.