Even banning guns outright would not stop deranged people who are determined to kill others. But there are some things we could consider to reduce the possibility.
It's human nature to try to explain the unexplainable. When confronted with a tragedy such as the horrific shootings in Aurora, Colo., we all feel a need to find a cause and fix it.
But we may never know the cause, much less agree on a remedy.
When 24-year-old James Holmes walked into a crowded movie theater as the new Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" was playing and started shooting, he was armed with a military-style semi-automatic weapon, a shotgun and two pistols, all purchased legally. He killed 12 people and injured dozens more, finally surrendering to police in a parking lot.
In the aftermath of the shooting, we've had calls for increased gun restrictions as well as discussions of whether violent entertainment begets violent acts. Some say we've restricted guns too much.
Those who think more restrictive gun laws will prevent such tragedies are wrong. Restricting gun sales, outlawing certain weapons, even banning guns outright will not stop deranged individuals who are determined to kill others.
We might as well ban violent movies on the theory that they lead to violent behavior. Reports from Colorado say Holmes may have been fixated on Batman movies, but most experts agree that violent movies do not cause people to go on rampages, instead that people who are predisposed to violence are attracted to violent movies.
After the deadly shootings in Colorado, handgun sales are up across the country, including Illinois. People are buying guns out of concerns for possible new restrictions on ownership and also out of concerns for their safety. But these spikes are common after high-profile shootings. There are those who think that concealed carry and the elimination of "gun-free zones" are the way to prevent such incidents.
Politically, Congress is not likely to touch gun laws before an election, especially since polls show the public backing handgun ownership and opposing a ban on assault rifles. Neither President Obama nor challenger Mitt Romney shows any inclination to increase regulations.
Just last week, the Chicago city council approved a package of gun regulations pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But Chicago and Washington, D.C., both had handgun bans in place that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2010 and 2008 respectively. Critics predicted gun violence would soar, but rates actually declined. Chicago has seen a spike in murders this year attributed to gang violence, but you can't regulate illegal guns possessed by gangs and criminals.
Federal and state laws already bar those convicted of felonies or acts of domestic violence or have been convicted of assault or battery or been patients in a mental institution or adjudicated as a mental defective, among other things.
But we are not helpless in the face of mass shootings. Here are some things we could do:
— A public service campaign about mental health services and to educate the public about signs of mental illness and what to do about it when someone appears to be in its grip. It helped change behavior for smoking, obesity and seat-belt usage.
— Better background checks, more information sharing between state and federal agencies. Federal law already required background checks for sales at federally licensed gun dealers, but that leaves approximately 40 percent of gun sales not subject to background checks. A recent survey showed that 70 percent of NRA members approved of criminal background checks for prospective gun owners. A group of mayors led by Michael Bloomberg want better background checks for firearms sales, including taking into account mental health issues, and a coalition of law enforcement groups on Thursday called for background checks on all gun buyers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines after the Colorado shooting rampage.
— Limit high-capacity magazine sales. An "assault rifle" without a high-capacity magazine is just a rifle. A previous federal law limiting sales expired in 2004.
— Better ways to identify people who need mental health counseling on high school or college campuses. Some of the worst mass shootings in recent years happened on campuses or involved college students. University of Texas, Columbine, Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech. On Friday, attorneys for Holmes, who was a former graduate student at the University of Colorado, disclosed that he was being treated by a psychiatrist at the university where he studied, a revelation that adds to suspicions that his life was in turmoil in the year before the rampage.