Guns Alone Don’t Kill, But Kill They Do

Horror, pain and sorrow were what every sensitive human being felt at the news of the carnage last week in San Bernardino, California. We extend our deepest condolences to families and friends of the murdered, and our wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded.

It has become clear that the couple who murdered 14 and wounded 21 last week had Islamist motives. And some are loudly, and with ample reason, declaiming that radical Islam is the civilized world’s enemy, not the culture of violence or guns.

But addressing the problem of murderous attacks on American civilians — there have been several high-profile ones in recent weeks, and many more in the months and years prior — isn’t an either/or proposition. Some of the bloodshed, to be sure, like so much violence around the world, is the product of an inherently violent strain of Islam. Some of it is born of White Supremacist attitudes and some of it the result of a toxic mixture of personal frustration and twisted minds. But an inordinate amount of it is perpetrated with firearms.

It is true that evil people prone to deadly violence and acts of terror can employ many means. There are knives, as our brethren in Israel, unfortunately, know all too well. And there are incendiary devices and poisons, too, all too easily concocted these days with the help of the internet.

But none of that means that there’s no sense in limiting the ready availability of firearms, by far terrorists’ weapons of choice. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the thankfully dispatched culprits in the San Bernardino massacre, had tried but failed to set off a large explosion at the Inland Regional Center, the social services facility that was the site of the massacre. But the large pipe bomb they had put together didn’t explode; they achieved their bloodshed with two .223-caliber assault rifles and two 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistols. They had also apparently stockpiled thousands of rounds of ammunition. The guns and ammunition were all legally obtained.

And a mere day after the San Bernardino attack, the U.S. Senate voted against expanding background checks to cover online and gun show gun purchases, easy paths for the violence-minded to obtain weapons. A similar bill proposed in 2013 met the same fate. Last week’s mostly party-line 50-48 vote followed the Senate’s defeat of an assortment of other firearms curbs. In fact, that same day, by a 54-45 vote, senators voted down a proposal that would have let the government bar sales to people it suspects of being terrorists. Yes, you read that right.

One day earlier, when news of the California rampage became known, President Obama remarked, “For those who are concerned about terrorism, some might be aware of the fact that we have a no-fly list where people can’t get on planes, but those same people who we don’t allow to fly can go into a store right now in the U.S. and buy a firearm and there is nothing we can do to stop them. That is a law that needs to be changed.”

It remains unchanged.

There are, moreover, no curbs whatsoever on the amount of firearms an American can buy. In October, an arsenal of thousands of guns and hundreds of chainsaws were discovered at the residence of a South Carolina man. Police had a subpoena for unrelated drug charges.

There also is no national gun registration mandate — only an assortment of state laws. Cars and trucks, in other words, can be tracked, but guns often have no traceable ownership trail beyond their last sale by a licensed dealer.

The recent Senate proposals were strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which emailed its members urging them to contact senators and “tell them to vote against any gun control amendments.”

That is a position that simply cannot be justified. Americans’ right to bear arms is, like any Constitutional right, not absolute. And it isn’t greatly limited by laws like the measures recently floated in Congress, or by most gun control proposals, all of which are aimed at reducing violent crimes, not at keeping reasonable types of firearms out of reach of citizens in good standing.

There are many factors — ideologies, psychologies and cultural norms — that play roles in the sort of bloodshed witnessed last week. And keeping track of firearms and keeping assault weapons out of the hands of people who are prone to violence will not prevent all murders. But to pretend that such measures are not logical, prudent or reasonable is simply ludicrous.