The 4 murders must not stop pushing for a healthier gun policy
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Three years after being called a ‘clear and present danger’, a man hid on a rooftop on Monday and fired a semi-automatic rifle into a crowd during a July 4 parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, killing seven people and injuring dozens. . It was only a week after President Joe Biden signed the first major gun safety law in decades, and just weeks after mass shootings at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
These nightmares are all different but unfortunately all too familiar. The 4th of July killer — a 21 year old resident who quickly confessed after turning himself in – seemed like exactly the kind of troubled person the system should have shut down. In 2019, a family member called Highland Park Police to report he said he was going to “kill everyone” with his collection of knives. Officers confiscated 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from his home.
But when his family refused to sign complaints, he was not arrested. Even though Highland Park Police told Illinois State Police he posed a “clear and present danger,” he passed four mandatory background checks to legally purchase five firearms, including the semi-automatic rifle used this week. Illinois State Police reject the idea that it shows a failure to protect the public, saying officers were missing specific information intervene legally.
This analysis is not good enough. How is it possible that more than 22 years after the Columbine High School massacre in suburban Denver sparked a new awareness of the terrifying threat of mass shootings, background check systems can be so clumsy in the deep blue Illinois? That a youth documented as saying he wanted to kill his family could find it so easy to stock up on weapons of war?
The nation is already reverting to familiar arguments about the folly of being awash in deadly weapons because of the founding fathers vague reflections about the militias of almost 250 years ago. The success of the bipartisan gun safety bill, while it did not go far enough, is a distant memory. Congressional Republicans seem unlikely to budge or even engage in discussions of additional gun measures as this election year progresses, but the cause for concern is growing with the body count. And inflation and a lingering pandemic are just two of Biden’s other concerns and priorities.
But the cause is so crucial that lawmakers should continue to pursue incremental reforms. It is possible to contemplate more substantial changes to gun policy in addition to the modest improvements approved by Congress and the President. In the case of Highland Park, the most obvious result is the need to develop much more uniform and analysis-driven best practices for identifying potential risks. Local, state and federal authorities need to do a much better job of sharing relevant information about people who have made threatening remarks or engaged in violence, but do so with caution – in a way that avoids years of criticism the state of California had to contend for its often poorly supplied and poorly controlled CalGang database that haunts some individuals whose only sin was growing up in difficult areas.
Here, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan understood the need to prevent preventable violence and created a protocol that “guides how schools, law enforcement, and prosecutors respond to threats.” in school, using evidence-based guidelines”. As she wrote in a June 30 essay for the opinion section of the San Diego Union-Tribune, key to this protocol is the realization that in 80 percent shooting cases in American schools, the shooter warned one or more people of what was to come. If more members of the public automatically reported such threats, evidence from San Diego suggests — so far, at least — the public carnage would decrease. The fact that friends and family members took verbal, written or online threats seriously may have averted the tragedy in Highland Park. In this case and others, a review of social media posts can provide an unvarnished view of how people think it might telegraph their future actions. The combination of Stephan’s advice with greater personal accountability holds promise, especially when synchronized with the standardization and improvement of national background checks. It should be possible to keep the semi-automatic rifles of people known to be threats.