The guns are the easier part.

Not easy.


There’s nothing remotely easy in the effort to reduce the frequency of mass shootings in America. We ought not ignore this reality by implying, much less by promising, as some people seem to do, that simple “solutions” exist and that they aren’t being instituted only because of the obstinacy and greed of certain politicians.

This is clearly not a matter of prevention, which suggests that these tragedies will cease.

It is a matter of reducing the risk.

And between the two parts of this terrible equation, which most recently played out last weekend in Dayton, Ohio, and in El Paso, Texas, addressing the gun is decidedly less complex than the human holding it.

We can, through the legislative process, exert some control over how accessible guns are, at least through legal commerce, to the tiny minority of people who might ever wield them in a mass shooting.

(The sheer number of guns in America means their acquisition by theft or other illegal means will remain possible.)

We should expand current laws requiring background checks for gun purchases to include gun shows and online sales. That would create a minor hassle for the vast majority of gun buyers who are law-abiding, but it’s plausible to believe such laws could also deprive a potential mass-murderer from getting a gun.

We should also examine the efficacy of laws prohibiting people with documented mental health issues from buying guns.

As for the human side of the equation, it hardly bears repeating that it would be immensely more beneficial to figure out how to help people navigate a course through life that doesn’t put them in a mall or a church or a school, firing at strangers.

It’s tempting to think that we can identify these people in advance. And indeed, many mass shooters acted in ways, in some cases years before, that could be deemed a foreshadowing of their crimes. But even accounting for the advantage of hindsight, this concept falls far short of being foolproof. Even if we believe we can pinpoint particular traits that mass shooters share, how can we distinguish between the thousands of people who exhibit these traits but never commit an atrocity, and the very few who someday might?

Despite the complexities of the human mind, though, there is no doubt that changing society’s attitude about mental health — in particular, removing any stigma about simply asking for help — can only redound to our individual, as well as collective, benefit.

Promoting the notion that being treated for mental health problems is as normal as being treated for a physical ailment is vital because it can help overcome one of the greatest challenges in this issue — when, and how, can society, through legislation and the power of government, compel people to undergo treatment?

The potential constitutional ramifications of mandatory treatment are immense. Incarcerating a person for mental health treatment who is deemed a threat is obviously a much more serious matter, legally speaking, than requiring a law-abiding citizen to fill out some forms before buying a gun.

But the potential benefits of encouraging people to voluntarily seek mental health treatment are considerable. Moreover, those benefits extend well beyond reducing the incidence of mass shootings.

Expanding mental health treatment could also reduce the rate of suicide by firearm — tragedies which rarely make national headlines but which end far more lives than mass shootings.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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