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PD Editorial: Another mass shooting, and a chilling warning

NICK ANDERSON / Washington Post Writers Group

THE EDITORIAL BOARD, BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD

In the aftermath of Sunday’s massacre at a Texas church, President Donald Trump said the shooting, which left 26 people dead, “isn’t a guns situation” but rather “a mental health problem.”

It was, in fact, both.

The killer, Devin P. Kelley, was able to purchase four firearms, including a military-style rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition despite a felony record for gross domestic violence and a history of serious mental illness.

Both disqualified him from owning firearms.

Clearly, the system failed.

Will anyone be held accountable? And will Congress and an administration that acted this year to make it easier for mentally ill people to obtain firearms shift its focus to protecting Americans from deranged killers?

Survivors and the grieving families of those who perished in the bloodbath at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas deserve answers to those questions.

So do the rest of us.

In fact, our lives may depend on it.

As of Thursday, there have been 308 shootings with four or more victims in the United States this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

That’s almost one every day, which helps explain this statement from the FBI agent leading the Sutherland Springs investigation:

“I think everybody, no matter where you are, needs to think about this,” Special Agent Christopher Combs said at a news briefing this week. “If you’re in a school, if you go to college, if you’re at the movies, we should all be thinking about ‘what are we gonna do if a crisis breaks out right here?’ ”

In the aftermath of Sunday’s attack, some people applauded the armed bystander who shot at Kelley as he fled the church. But this good guy with a gun wasn’t able to prevent the deaths of more than two dozen people inside the church, just as armed people, including off-duty cops in the crowd at a Las Vegas concert last month, were no match for a sniper shooting from a nearby high-rise.

The FBI background check system blocks about 200 sales a day to felons, fugitives and others prohibited from owning firearms. Kelley was missed because the U.S. Air Force failed to notify the FBI about his 2012 conviction in a military court for assaulting his then-wife and fracturing the skull of her young child. Kelley also had been sent to a mental health facility, from which he escaped, while serving in the Air Force. That information wasn’t in the FBI database either.

It appears that the armed forces may not be reporting domestic violence convictions, and the military isn’t alone. The man who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University in 2007 had been found mentally unstable by a judge, but that information wasn’t passed on to the FBI. Neither was the drug conviction that would have barred gun sales to the white supremacist who killed nine people in a predominantly black church in Columbia, South Carolina a year ago.

These failures cost people their lives.

If recent history is any guide, the Texas massacre won’t prompt Congress to do anything about the availability of military-style weapons or loopholes in the background check system. Until that happens, we all need to heed Special Agent Combs’ warning.