Herman: Another mass shooting, another search for answers

Once again, a reeling nation yearns for answers amid difficult days of outrage, mourning and introspection, as we again speak about the unspeakable and think about the unthinkable.

This time it’s a tragedy that includes a city, a sporting goods store and a favorite fun place that, in this horrific context, remind us of just how close to home this is: New Braunfels, Academy, Schlitterbahn.

It’s particularly difficult for those of us who support gun control and gun rights.

Are those mutually exclusive? Perhaps. But that’s the precarious space in which we are going to find plausible, politically possible answers. Answers that prevent mass shootings? Perhaps not. In fact, most probably not. Homicidal and suicidal are a powerful, toxic mix, often unencumbered by laws.

INTERACTIVE: Mapping 51 years of mass shootings in America

For years now after these mass shootings, I’ve asked folks what law could have prevented them. Ammo limits? OK. Background checks on all gun purchases? Sure. A ban on the ingeniously dastardly device that turns a legal semi-automatic rifle into a de facto illegal automatic weapon? Right now, please. Though who among us non-gun-owners had heard of “bump stocks” before the Las Vegas mass shooting last month?

It very well might be a distinction without a difference, but I prefer it (what an awful thing to have a preference about) when a mass murder is committed with an illegally purchased weapon because it shows a legislative attempt to prevent these crimes.

But I’m also concerned about laws that might prevent law-abiding citizens from legally buying legal weapons.

So I might not be much help in solving this. Or I might be where many Americans find themselves.

Is there a refrain more American than “there oughtta be a law …”? We’re going to learn more about the Sutherland Springs shootings in coming days. But for now, it looks as if this guy purchased the murder weapon at an Academy store in San Antonio despite a law that should have prevented it because of violent crime in his background.

How does a guy with a military bad-conduct discharge for violence against his own family get a gun? The saddest answer would be legally.

Loophole? Administrative screw-up? The difference between illegal purchase and fraudulent purchase? Post-Sutherland Springs, this is another distinction without difference. Going forward, it’s a matter of life and death for somebody or somebodies somewhere, perhaps in a church, in a school or at a concert. Perhaps even closer to home than a small Texas community few of us had heard of before churchtime Sunday morning.

Authorities: Shooter’s victims ranged from 18 months to 77 years old

We now know that the Air Force acknowledges it failed to tell the FBI about this shooter’s violent criminal record amassed while he served, a record that, by law, should have prevented him from legally purchasing firearms. We also now know that an armed citizen fired at and hit the shooter after the church assault, very possibly preventing more murders. This is a combination of factors that plays into the NRA narrative concerning good guys with guns. And for people who want it to, it can buttress the notion that government is ineffective in protecting us and people must be prepared to do it themselves.

Though it’s elsewhere in this newspaper, I choose not to mention the name of this mad murderer, whose recent employment included a five-week stint as a security guard at the Schlitterbahn water park in New Braunfels, the city in which he lived with his parents.

And I’m choosing not to repeat where this deed ranks on the list of mass shootings. I find such rankings noxious. Necessary in news coverage, noxious nonetheless.

I will, however, pass along this chilling line from CNN’s John Berman, who called this the nation’s “deadliest mass shooting in the last 35 days.”

Is there a law that could stop everybody who is homicidal and suicidal from getting a gun and killing lots of people? You know the answer. Where there’s an evil will, there’s an illegal way.

Some well-intentioned laws go too far, and some slopes are dangerously slipperier than others. This is complicated, including the unassailable notion that guns and mental illness are a bad match.

There were howls of disbelief earlier this year when President Donald Trump signed a measure erasing a rule intended to keep guns away from people with mental disorders. The rule had required the Social Security Administration to report the names of Social Security recipients deemed unable to manage their finances due to a mental health condition.

Easy, right? No, not at all, said the ACLU, despite its core belief that “the Second Amendment allows reasonable restrictions to promote public safety.” The ACLU joined 23 national disability groups in favoring the repeal.

“The thousands of Americans whose disability benefits are managed by someone else range from young people with depression and financial inexperience to older adults with Down syndrome needing help with a limited budget,” the ACLU said. “But no data — none — show that these individuals have a propensity for violence in general or gun violence in particular. To the contrary, studies show that people with mental disabilities are less likely to commit firearm crimes than to be the victims of violence by others.”

READ: What to know about the shooter, gun laws

“This is about more than guns,” the ACLU said. “Adding more innocent Americans to the National Instant Criminal Background database because of a mental disability is a disturbing trend — one that could be applied to voting, parenting or other rights dearer than gun ownership.”

Food for thought, as was this from the ACLU: “White men are most likely to be mass shooters, the issue that politicians care about most, despite accounting for a tiny fraction of gun violence. And men under 35 commit most murders. Shall we enter all young men into the national database? The statistical correlation with gun violence would be stronger.”

The discussions sparked by these horrific incidents always remind me of a notion oft repeated by George W. Bush, both as candidate and president.

“I wish I knew the law that says love a neighbor like you would like to be loved yourself. I’d sign it,” Bush said at a May 2001 event at a Cleveland church.

He trotted it out again in the East Room of the White House in October 2003 as he proclaimed National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. “I like to remind people, you know, that I wish government could make people love one another,” he said. “I would sign the piece of legislation.”

The official White House transcript notes the notion was greeted in the East Room with laughter.

Let’s hope that coming up with acceptable law that somehow ends these mass shootings is not a laughable notion.

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