No easy answers

The murderous shooting rampage this week at the Washington Navy Yard reignited, at least within the national media, the usual debate about guns and how much government should do to control their use. We have no doubt that for better or worse the actions of the seemingly mentally disturbed man who shot 12 people to death in the nation’s capital will do little to push the debate in the direction of stricter gun control.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the U.S. Senate’s top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he wants to try to move forward a gun control measure that has been stalled in the Senate but knew he didn’t have the 60 votes needed to get that done.

In the end, there isn’t massive support for tougher gun laws because the shooting rampage at the Navy Yard probably had more to do with the problem of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of people with psychiatric problems. For the most part, we have stopped, on civil liberties grounds, requiring people with mental health problems to get care in institutional settings or take medications they have been prescribed.

In November 2009 at Fort Hood, in Texas, the sorts of tight restrictions on gun possession in effect at the Navy Yard this week did not prevent an Army Major who was also a psychiatrist from gunning down 13 people.

Americans wish there was a way of preventing these shooting tragedies. Unfortunately, no one seems to have a clue as to how to do that in a way that would be practical and constitutional.

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