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We can’t become ‘numb’ to murder

Irv Randolph | 11/3/2015, 4:45 p.m.
We should all hope President Barack Obama is wrong when he recently said mass shootings in America have now become ...
Visitors at a gun show in Houston. Wikipedia photo

We should all hope President Barack Obama is wrong when he recently said mass shootings in America have now become so common in this country that we now see them as routine.

Obama remarks came after Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where he was a student. He was armed with six guns, including a Glock pistol, a Smith & Wesson pistol, a Taurus pistol and a Del-Ton assault rifle, according to the Associated Press.

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Irv Randolph

The president said mass shooting which are defined by the FBI as involving four or more people have become so common that his response has become routine, the media’s reporting of it has become routine and our response as America has become routine.

Sadly, I believe the president is right.

Yes, there is a momentary outcry when there is a mass shooting on a college campus but we are out not outraged by the gun violence that occurs every day in America’s inner cities.

Though mass shootings, capture national headlines, they are a tiny fraction of the nation's overall gun violence, which takes more than 30,000 lives annually.

Chicago, which has been dubbed by some in the media as the murder capitol of America, has seen a roughly 20 percent increase in shootings and homicides so far this year compared with the same period in 2014. That included a July 4 weekend that left 48 people shot, including a 7-year-old boy who police say was killed by a shot intended for his father, described as a "ranking gang member" by officers.

But what do we do about mass shootings and gun violence?

The New York Times reports that “criminal histories and documented mental health problems did not prevent at least eight of the gunmen in 14 recent mass shootings from obtaining their weapons, after federal background checks led to approval of the purchases of the guns used.”

How can our lawmakers fail to act when young men with criminal histories and documented mental health problems are allowed to obtain weapons after federal background check?

In the Oregon shooting, Harper-Mercer, a graduate from the Switzer Learning Center in Torrance, Calif., which teaches students with learning disabilities and emotional issues, obtained an arsenal of weapons.

Yet despite his history, Harper-Mercer owned 14 firearms, all of which were bought legally through a federally licensed firearms dealer, a federal official. Some were bought by Mr. Harper-Mercer, and some by members of his family.

Harper-Mercer is not an aberration.

In July, John R. Houser killed two people and wounded nine others at a movie theater in Lafayette, La. using a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol bought from a pawnshop.

Houser was denied a state-issued concealed weapons permit because he was accused of domestic violence and soliciting arson. Houser later bought the weapon in Alabama. Officials said it had been purchased legally, though he had been denied a concealed weapons permit earlier, and despite concerns among family members that he was violent and mentally ill.

But many gun owners who use their weapons for hunting, target shooting and protecting themselves are opposed to any new restrictions on gun ownership. A commonly held opinion among many conservatives is that the solution to mass killings is more people carrying guns, not fewer.

While it is true that gun control legislation will not solve all the problems of mass shootings and gun violence it could certainly help with increased mental health counseling and better evaluation of mental illness to keep guns out of the hands of those who are violent or unstable.

But right now lawmakers are content to do nothing.

Unfortunately there are many other incidents where shooters have been allowed to obtain their guns legally despite documented histories of mental health issues and violence.

Lawmakers should at the very least pass legislation that will bar people with criminal records or mental illness from buying firearms legally.

Irv Randolph is editor and co-publisher of South Jersey Journal.