The rampage in a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead has become so enmeshed in election-eve debates over hate speech that there's been little discussion about the shooter's deadly arsenal — which, we now know, was extensive and perfectly legal.
It's been said many times, but it needs to be said again and again: America is the only advanced nation in the world where civilians routinely attack and kill multiple fellow civilians in public with military-style weapons. This national shame isn't unfixable; America's leaders simply refuse to fix it. The Pittsburgh tragedy, like so many before it, might have been prevented with rational restrictions on military-style firearms.
On Saturday morning, Robert Bowers, 46, an avowed anti-Semite, entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh carrying an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle and three Glock .357-caliber handguns. He shot and killed 11 congregants, including a 97-year-old woman, and wounded six others.
Federal investigators say those four firearms and six others Bowers owned were purchased legally. His AR-15 is patterned after the U.S. military's primary combat rifle and is the go-to weapon for civilian mass shooters. It was perfectly permissible for this maniac to possess this arsenal under federal and Pennsylvania law until the moment he started killing people.
Had restrictions been in place — manufacture and sales bans on military-style rifles, ammunition limits, caps on the number of guns one person can own, prohibitions on transporting those guns in public — might the body count have been lower?
That's an unanswerable question. But it is clear that the few gun laws we have are ineffective in stopping mass shooters like Bowers until it's too late — after their murderous sprees begin. The tragic results suggest that restrictions might at least limit their mass-killing abilities.
The Second Amendment doesn't allow such limits? Nonsense. There are, in fact, entire classes of illegal weapons in the U.S. that are effectively kept out of our national bloodstream. To deny the very concept of workable gun control ignores existing limits under U.S. law — and the fact that, in countries that enforce serious gun control, such mass shootings almost never happen.
The National Rifle Association's unyielding interpretation of the Second Amendment suggests that mass bloodshed is a necessary price for "freedom." President Donald Trump says we should now arm places of worship; that's every bit as ridiculous as his previous suggestion of arming teachers in classrooms. Congress' head remains firmly in the sand on all of it.
We know there are ways to prevent this endless parade of tragedies, because most of the world does. But until America's leaders start viewing this as the public policy crisis it is — or until voters replace them with lawmakers who will — brace for more deaths like those at the Tree of Life.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH