Editorial: How Columbia, SC, became a national leader on gun control

The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Op Eds

Five months later, we still don't know why Stephen Paddock rented a room in a Las Vegas high-rise and decided to commit one of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history, killing 58 and injuring more than 500.

Despite the carnage and initial chatter among members of Congress – and even the National Rifle Association – about finally taking concrete steps to lessen the chances such an event could be repeated, the federal government has again proven itself incapable of taking the issue seriously. Fortunately, several states and cities have begun trying to make up for Congress's derelict of duty.

After the shooting, Columbia, S.C., became the first city to officially ban devices called bump stocks, which allowed Paddock to turn semi-automatic weapons into ones that could fire more rapidly and consistently. Cities such as Denver have followed suit. More than a dozen states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut have or are considering doing the same. It's a small measure, and in some ways symbolic, given that we don't how many people have bump stocks.

It won't prevent every mass shooting. It won't stop every person determined to cause as much harm as possible. Guns, semi-automatic or bump stock-enhanced, are not the only way to commit massacres and unleash havoc and terror. So even if our leaders in Washington reverse course and get busy on bipartisan legislation banning bump stocks, no one should declare victory over the scourge of gun violence that is the worst in the developed world. Only diligent, painstaking law enforcement work, along with a strong partnership with the community, can root out the most dangerous among us before they can cause too much damage.

But the decision to act in the face of inaction from Washington by a growing number of cities and states is welcome nonetheless. It's not as effective as more comprehensive background checks, better mental health care, stricter training requirements, or any number of other measures. Still, it puts down a marker, makes a declaration that there are ways to cobble together the political will to begin tackling gun violence, even if it is one painstakingly slow step at a time.

We've so lost our way on this issue. Mass shootings and everyday shootings, no matter if they are in churches or schools, at country music concerts, or inside nightclubs, generate a few mostly localized headlines before quickly fading from public awareness. According to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 800 people were shot and killed in less than a month after the Las Vegas shooting even as Congress refused to act. So far this year, more than 5,300 people have been shot, nearly 1,500 of whom died, including 60 children. Charlotte in 2017 saw its most homicides in a dozen years, and a gun was involved in three-quarters of them.

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That list will only grow. At some point, we must muster the courage to do something about it. Banning bump stocks should be only the beginning.

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