A small memorial of flags and flowers at the Capital Gazette. Photo courtesy of Mark Wilson via ABC News.
The shooting at the Capital Gazette offices in late June of this year was surprising and devastating. The shooter* from Laurel, Maryland, killed five people and injured others. He targeted the Capital Gazette because of an incident and subsequent lawsuit in 2011.
The Baltimore Sun reports that, despite the shooter spending almost a decade harassing a woman online and fighting a defamation case against the Capital Gazette for writing about his stalking case, he was able to purchase a shotgun legally in 2017. This is a direct failure of gun safety laws in America.
People who are critical of restricting gun laws often talk about keeping assault rifles legal to own. According to the National Rifle Association, rifles and shotguns can be purchased and carried without a permit in Maryland. This opens up access to people who intend to use their weapons on innocent people. Many of the mass shootings in schools and workplaces reported in 2018 have been carried out by perpetrators using rifles.
Rifles, shotguns and handguns should be held to the same standard in every state. Assault rifles and other military-grade weapons’ legality would be much less of an issue if they all required stringent background checks and permit laws. Anyone who desires a firearm for self defense over a specific age limit would be allowed to apply for a permit, just like the issuance of driving permits.
Another common argument from pro-gun advocates is that guns are not the problem, mental illness is. This argument still ties back to the need for stronger background checks. If people really cared about the mental health of shooters and potential shooters, they would also be proponents of free mental health care services, which they often are not.
Because the change to gun permit laws has been slow, there are other actions that citizens should take. Wendi Winters, one of the victims of the Capital Gazette shooting, had participated in active shooter training at her church a few weeks before the attack. More places of worship, workplaces and schools should offer classes on surviving an active shooter situation.
UMBC has an official Emergency Response Plan for generalized “hostile intruders.” Alerts via phone and email are also broadcast in case of an emergency. However, there is no mandatory, in-person emergency preparation for students and staff at the school.
Unfortunately, it is a reality of American society that mass shootings will continue to take innocent lives. Through advocacy for stronger background check and permit laws and an increase in formal shooter preparation, hopefully the amount of shootings and fatalities will decrease.
*We have deliberately chosen not to identify the shooter by name.