On the same day that President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union address — in the Capitol, where some families victimized by gun violence were invited guests — two more deadly incidents of firearms mayhem were playing out in California and in nearby Maryland.
On Tuesday, a former Los Angeles police officer who had gone berserk over his 2008 firing apparently met his end in a resort cabin after killing one deputy and wounding another, bringing his toll to four dead. In a suburb of Washington, D.C., a university student set on fire the house he shared with two fellow students. He then shot and killed one of his roommates and seriously wounded the other before killing himself.
The perpetrators had this in common: Both were at least temporarily unbalanced, especially the Maryland man, who, it turns out, may have shown some evidence of paranoia but not enough to have been caught by a background check when he legally purchased his weapons.
Therein rests the futility of the current gun situation. The elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., and the movie-theater bloodbath in Aurora, Colo., have increased pressure for universal background checks on firearms purchasers. But weeding out who might suddenly explode into deadly violence is nearly impossible without a record or history of mental disturbance. And, with an estimated 300 million-plus guns in circulation, it’s even more difficult to limit access to weapons. Almost anyone, record or not, can easily lay hands on a gun.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t adopt efforts to close loopholes in background checks of prospective gun buyers. It’s imperative that everyone get vetted, including those who buy at gun shows.
But the president, in his address, realistically regarded any stronger action as improbable in a legislature where most of the members fear for their political lives if they oppose the National Rifle Association, an industry shill that pretends to represent the interests of firearms owners. Obama simply said that all measures, including a ban on assault weapons and expanded magazines, at least should be given a vote.