The second mass shooting in two months has inevitably revived cries to tighten the country’s gun control laws. And there is room for that discussion, given that the 26 slaughtered in a Texas church Sunday brings to 84 the number of Americans who have fallen victim to deranged gunmen in mass killings this fall.
Before the earnest and necessary debate begins on what new rules might have prevented some or all of these deaths, the country must commit to fully enforcing its existing gun laws.
We agree Devin Kelley, the Texan who rampaged through First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, should not have been allowed to purchase the four guns found in his possession after the massacre.
And had federal law been enforced, he would not have had those firearms.
Contrary to early and erroneous reports, Texas law did not enable Kelley to legally purchase the guns. Federal rules apply the same in Texas as they do everywhere else in America.
Anyone who has ever purchased a gun over the counter understands those laws. Purchasers are required to answer a series of questions designed to determine whether they are legally eligible to buy and possess firearms.
The questions deal with, among other things, past criminal history. Anyone convicted of a crime that comes with a sentence of a year or more in jail or has been charged with domestic violence or has been dishonorably discharged from the military flunks the test and the purchase is denied.
Kelley met all three of those disqualifiers. He was convicted of assaulting his wife and infant stepson, was sentenced to a year in a military brig and was handed his involuntary walking papers by the U.S. Air Force.
But for reasons still undetermined, the Air Force never entered Kelley’s criminal record in the FBI database that is used to verify the accuracy of a gun purchaser’s responses.
That is an unforgivable oversight, but one that happens too often. Records from courts and law enforcement agencies frequently fail to make it into the database, allowing those who are not eligible to legally purchase a gun to slip through the system. And the military branches are among the most negligent.
Tightening the process for reporting data, and providing the resources for all agencies to feed in the information on a real time basis, should be something both Republicans and Democrats in Congress can agree on.
Whether Kelley would have found other, illegal outlets for obtaining weapons can never be known. But if the goal is a regulatory regime that at least attempts to keep guns out of the hands of those known to be dangerous, a good starting point is to enforce the laws already enacted to accomplish that goal.