Three deaths in widely separated parts of the country: Each the work of a single person, each stemming from a different grievance.
They did have one thing in common: All three victims were killed by a gun (although each by a different type).
In Wichita, Kan., a single bullet from a handgun took the life of Dr. George Tiller, who ran a clinic that performed late-term abortions. The man charged with Tiller’s murder was an anti-abortion activist who called his act “a victory for all the unborn children.”
In Little Rock, Ark., bullets fired from an SKS assault rifle killed a 23-year-old private at an Army recruiting booth and critically wounded a second private. The gunman, a Muslim convert, told The Associated Press that U.S. military action in the Middle East justified his action.
In Washington, bullets from an ancient .22-caliber rifle killed a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Authorities identified the gunman as an 88-year-old white supremacist whose car contained a notebook calling the holocaust “a lie” and that “Obama was created by Jews.”
The three gunmen face murder charges, but investigations are continuing, including whether weapons laws were violated. A federal ban on sales of some assault weapons expired in 2004.
We’ve heard some concern whether the nation’s economic problems or the election of the first black president might inspire increased acts of political extremism. But there has been virtually no discussion of whether the incidents indicate a need for stricter laws to limit access to such weapons — or at least keep better records of who buys or owns them.
Indeed, every sign is that opponents of gun-control laws, like the National Rifle Association, essentially have won the longstanding public battle over the efficacy of legal restrictions to curb potential violence by individuals with access to firearms.
In the recent Virginia gubernatorial primary, Democrats nominated a candidate endorsed by the NRA when he ran for attorney general in 2005 and who did not suffer for opposing legislation to ban buying more than one handgun a month and carrying firearms in bars.
And when Republicans pushed a proposal curbing the District of Columbia’s power to regulate gun ownership as a “poison pill” designed to kill a measure giving Washingtonians a voting member of Congress, 22 Democrats joined them, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The nation’s first urban Democratic president in a generation, busy with the economy and health care, shows no sign of wanting to press the matter. Asked this spring if Barack Obama might be willing to reinstate the assault weapons ban, spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president believes “there are other strategies that we can take to enforce the laws that are already on the books.”
Earlier, Attorney General Eric Holder told CBS News’ Katie Couric that the administration would work with the NRA on “common-sense approaches to reduce the level of violence” on the streets. Obama, Holder said, sought policies “that are politically saleable and things that will be ultimately effective.”
The key phrase is “politically saleable,” given that enactment of the assault weapons ban during the Clinton administration cost Democrats a number of congressional seats in 1994. Democrats don’t want a repeat.
Besides, it’s unclear if stricter gun laws would have prevented the three recent slayings, as well as other even deadlier incidents this year. A recent Supreme Court decision makes it harder for states and localities to limit sales and ownership.
Still, it’s hard to argue that the easy availability of handguns and assault weapons is good for crime prevention or what the Founding Fathers had in mind in the Second Amendment.
And it’s surely a sign of the times that there’s so little effort to do anything about it.