In the days since last week’s attack at a high school in south Florida, where 17 people died, there are rumblings that this time the response will be different; that the tragedy has spurred residents to demand that political leaders do something to stop further carnage; and that more politicians may actually listen.
Pardon the skepticism. But if the deaths of more than 20 kindergarten students in Newtown, Conn., more than five years ago did nothing to convince the congressional majority that something is badly wrong with the easy availability of guns, why would the latest event?
Besides, there are plenty of other questions to be answered before the country wades into a divisive debate over guns.
The FBI acknowledged Friday that it had received a warning last month that the suspect, Nikolas Cruz, was talking about killing people at a school. The agency failed to investigate.
Cruz should be the poster child for greater scrutiny of potential gun buyers. Twelve months ago, he legally bought a rifle from licensed gun store located three miles from the school he is accused of attacking.
According to The Associated Press, Cruz would not have been allowed to buy a handgun at the time because he was under 21 years of age. But federal law allows anybody who’s 18 to buy a semi-automatic weapon.
What is the logic behind those laws? It’s like saying you can buy hard liquor at age 18 but you need to wait till you’re 21 to buy beer.
Another federal law states that legal gun purchases can be blocked if a court declares a person to be a “mental defective” or if that person has been committed to a mental institution. This was another loophole for Cruz: He had gone to a mental health clinic for treatment but hadn’t been there for more than a year.
It seems obvious that Congress needs to look at greater mental health restrictions on gun purchases. But this was obvious long before last week’s shooting. The whole country knows there are a lot of mentally fragile people out there who have not been committed for treatment but who still have absolutely no business owning a gun.
Right now everyone will lament attacks like last week’s, but after the TV cameras go away, will enough politicians really have the nerve to take action? That just seems doubtful.
The one area where there is more likely to be helpful action is in mental health services. Since both parties seem pleased that the federal government just set itself up to run trillion-dollar annual deficits for the next few years, who’s going to argue against spending another $5 billion to expand mental health care?
It’s important to balance all these possible avenues of change with the fact that almost all gun owners have no intention of opening fire in a school. Only extremists want to get rid of guns, and that kind of rhetoric is unhelpful.
But until something changes, nothing will change. There will be another attack in a few months. More aggressive mental health interventions and more deliberate and thorough background checks on potential gun owners are obvious areas for discussion.