Editorial: The time is now to urge gun control

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The statistics are horrifying. According to the New York Times, there have been 521 mass shootings, instances in which four or more people have been killed or injured while in the same place, in the past 477 days. The death toll, as of Tuesday, from the ambush of Las Vegas concertgoers by 64-year-old Stephen Paddock was 59. More than 500 people were wounded. It was the worst mass shooting in American history. If nothing changes, that record will be broken by another heavily armed person with a twisted mind.

No motive has emerged to explain why Paddock, a wealthy white retiree with no criminal record, decided to kill as many people as he could before taking his own life. Mass murderers typically share some characteristics, but no one thing seems to explain the actions of any of them. There is, however, a common denominator in each case – a gun, or in Paddock’s case, 49 guns. Some of them were equipped with a special bump stock, available online for $99 in one ad, that turns a semi-automatic assault rifle into the equivalent of a fully automatic weapon.

Some have argued that now is the time to focus on the victims and their families. “Save talk about gun control for later,” they say. They’re wrong. Now, more than ever, is the time, before people who place the Second Amendment above the right to life weaken existing – and already inadequate – firearms legislation.

When Paddock checked into a suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel last week, bills before Congress – sponsored by Republicans of course – called for easing federal restrictions on the ownership of gun silencers and making armor-piercing bullets more readily available. Another bill would require every state to recognize the concealed-carry standards of any other state – so New Hampshire residents, thanks to a new law passed this year, wouldn’t need a license to carry a concealed weapon even in strict gun-control states like Massachusetts and New York.

The National Rifle Association, which in the last two election cycles gave 99 percent of its campaign contributions to Republicans, dropped into its bunker not long after the firing stopped in Las Vegas. The group has yet to comment on the shootings and has not responded to press inquiries. It’s a safe bet the NRA will emerge when the first common-sense bill to regulate gun ownership is filed. We urge New Hampshire’s congressional delegation to do just that.

More guns and more people carrying them in public will not increase safety. Paddock was nearly a quarter-mile away and hundreds of feet above the flat killing field packed with 22,000 people. Many of them could have been carrying handguns, and it wouldn’t have mattered. What would matter would be prohibitions or severe restrictions on the ownership of magazines capable of holding more than say, a dozen rounds. So would a ban, if not on assault rifles then on the legal sale of stocks and kits that make them fully automatic.

What would matter is the institution of universal background checks before the purchase of a firearm and a ban on gun purchases by people with a history of stalking and domestic assault. Making access to mental health care quick and affordable would help.

Doing nothing, which is what Congress did after Columbine, Colo., 13 dead; Orlando, Fla., 49 dead; San Bernadino, Ca., 14 dead; Sandy Hook, Conn., 26 dead; Binghamton, N.Y., 14 dead; Virginia Tech, 32 dead – the list goes on and on, guaranteeing that the carnage won’t stop and that someone, somewhere, will break Paddock’s grim record.