Wisconsin Examiner
Op Ed

Legal Firearms Used in Many Mass Shootings

Reforms like red-flag laws, background checks for private sales could save lives.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - May 26th, 2021 05:06 pm
M1911 Pistol Gun. Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

M1911 Pistol Gun. (Pixabay License).

Many have said it: Gun violence is a stain on the American character or, as President Biden said in April, an “international embarrassment.”

No two words demonstrate just how deep is the stain than these: legally purchased.

You may have noticed. These words get high placement – deservedly – in many of the news accounts that follow each mass killing.

That we have so many people willing to murder with guns does reveal something about American society. It’s too easy to deflect the problem by laying the fault at the doorsteps of deeply flawed individuals, which every country has in abundance. You know, guns don’t kill people, people do.

Simplistic, but reasonable-enough sounding to deserve a more complex response.

What the words legally purchased say is that we have a country that willfully enables such people.

Got it? Inaction on purpose. This is the deeply embedded stain that those words “legally purchased” bring out.

Here’s a simple premise most of us can agree with: By definition, a person who murders with a gun can’t be trusted with one.

But “legally purchased” says we’re OK with guns in these wrong hands. Said another way, so many of us are covetous of our easy access to guns – so enamored of gun ownership – that we tolerate guns in the hands of those who see them as mere tools to channel their frustrations, biases and hatreds.

This is the price we’re willing to pay because, hey, I can be trusted with a gun. Which says: the victims of the people who can’t be trusted are tolerable collateral damage to sustain gun ownership for those who can be trusted. And the problem is that a lot of folks can be trusted with guns – until they can’t. Then it’s too late.

The Associated Press offered a count after one of our recent mass shootings, this one in March. Here’s how that story led:

“The suspect in the shooting at a Boulder, Colorado, supermarket was convicted of assaulting a high school classmate but still got a gun. The man accused of opening fire on three massage businesses in the Atlanta area bought his gun just hours before the attack – no waiting required.”

What followed was a distressing count of what mostly appear to be legal purchases by the gunmen and others at gun stores and through private individuals from July 2012 to March 2021.

Boulder, 10 dead; Atlanta, eight dead; Midland, Texas, seven dead;  Dayton, Ohio, nine dead; El Paso, Texas, 23 dead; Virginia Beach, Virginia, 12 dead; Thousand Oaks, California, 12 dead; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; 11 dead; Santa Fe, Texas, 10 dead; Parkland, Florida, 17 dead; Sutherland Springs, Texas, 25 dead; Las Vegas, Nevada, 58 dead; Orlando, Florida, 49 dead; San Bernardino, California, 14 dead; Roseburg, Oregon, 10 dead; Charleston, South Carolina, nine dead; Washington D.C., 12 dead; Newtown, Connecticut, 26 dead; Aurora, Colorado, 12 dead. Not an exhaustive list of all shootings, yet still totaling 334 deaths.

Each of these mass shootings prompted common-sense proposals on how to lessen the body count.

Among them: Red-flag laws in which authorities can take away guns from those deemed too dangerous to have them; bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; standardized background checks even on private sales; mimicking for gun ownership the licensing, registration, fees and mandatory insurance required to have cars; and more robust research funded by the federal government into gun violence. This last item could uncover even more common-sense policies for gun ownership.

And, of course, such proposals always run afoul of the cold-dead-hands crowd in Congress and in state legislatures, though none of them violate the Second Amendment, a misreading of which has become holy writ for the gun lobby in America.

Stephen Paddock legally purchased 33 of the 49 weapons found in his hotel in that 2017 Las Vegas shooting – 58 dead – after passing background checks. According to the AP story, “His gradual accumulation of guns went undetected because federal law doesn’t require licensed gun dealers to alert the government about rifle purchases.”

But these mass shootings are simply the most noticeable manifestation of rampant gun ownership.

In April, President Biden noted that 316 people in this country are shot every day; 106 of them die. Much of this is what amounts to cumulative mass shootings by onesies and twosies.

Yes, many of these are not with legally purchased firearms. But so many are – mass shootings or not – that one can’t help but surmise that all this inaction on gun reform is purposeful.


Certainly, but shame is what we should really feel.

O. Ricardo Pimentel has been a journalist for about 40 years. He was most recently the editorial page editor for the San Antonio Express-News in Texas; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before that. He has also worked in various editing and reporting positions in newspapers in California, Arizona, Texas and Washington D.C., where he covered Congress, federal agencies and the Supreme Court for McClatchy Newspapers. He is the author of two novels and lives in Wisconsin.

Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner.

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