This time the setting was a small southeastern Texas hamlet, but the horror that played out there Sunday morning reprised so many of the same all too predictable plot lines.
A sniper armed with military assault weaponry enters a public place.
He lets loose round after round and magazine after magazine of lethal force.
Mass hysteria erupts.
Men, women and children scatter. Many fall to their deaths.
The triggerman is disabled and dies.
A community, state and nation mourn.
Americans from the president on down offer well-intentioned but grossly insufficient “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their loved ones.
Talk of serious action to stop the madness of too many guns in too many wrong hands is quietly raised but quickly muted.
Then, within a period of months, weeks or days, a return engagement of the same tragedy – perhaps with a few minor plot twists – rocks the nation anew.
In the most recent remake of that familiar tragedy, Devin Patrick Kelley, wearing black tactical gear including a ballistic vest and wielding a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle, entered the serene First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, and quickly unleashed volley after volley of death and destruction.
In killing at least 26 people – many of them children – he succeeded in committing the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in Texas, as well as the deadliest shooting in an American place of worship in modern history, surpassing the Charleston church shooting of 2015 and the Waddell, Ariz., Buddhist temple gun violence of 1991.
The emotional toll wrought from Sutherland Springs also ranks among the worst of the worst. The shootings harken back to the killings of congregants at Emmanuel AME Church two years ago as they, too, took place in a house of worship, a supposed safe haven protected by the overarching Christian commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”
It also conjures up images of the Newtown, Conn., massacre of December 2012 when a deranged gunman shot and killed 20 children between 6 and 7 years old, as well as six adult staff members of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
PRESIDENT IS RIGHT AND WRONG
In his immediate response to the carnage, President Donald J. Trump was both right and wrong.
He was right in acknowledging the shootings are likely a byproduct of a man with some serious mental-health problems. Kelley, in fact, reportedly escaped from a mental-health institution several years ago. He, of course, shared that diagnosis with many of the most notorious mass shooters in history.
Trump was wrong, however, to argue that the Texas church massacre is not a “gun situation.” The shooter in this case had been prohibited from owning a firearm because of his conviction and court martial while in the U.S. Air Force on domestic-violence charges against his wife and child. If the system had not failed responsible Americans, we would not be writing yet another editorial decrying mass gun violence in this country.
Kelley’s ability to easily access his weaponry of mass destruction attests to cracks in this nation’s relatively lax gun laws (the required paperwork on Kelley’s convictions never had been entered into a federal database). It also points to the need for stronger, sensible but not overly intrusive gun legislation in this country.
Poll after poll show a majority of Americans strongly support sensible gun laws. Some such proposals call for stronger background checks with mental health evaluations and waiting periods. Some would require regular checks and updates of databases that would encompass criminal histories, military courts marital and terrorist watch lists
Still others would ban devices such as the so-called “bump stocks” used by the Las Vegas shooter who killed five dozen people last month. That cheap add-on has the ability to turn a semi-automatic rifle into a de facto automatic weapon.
All of those reasonable regulations would do nothing to dilute the legitimate gun-ownership rights of responsible advocates of the Second-Amendment.
If this nation uses the tragedy in Sutherland Springs as a starting point to commit actively and speedily to reducing gun violence, some long-lasting good may result from those fleeting minutes of unadulterated evil that ripped at the heart of Texas this week.
Such commitment must begin posthaste in the halls of Congress and state legislatures if we are to have any hope at all of preventing yet an even more grisly re-enactment of Sunday’s bloodbath in the not-too-distant future.