Yet Another Shooting

In lieu of flowers.

Photographer: Paul J. Richards/Getty Images

America's ritualized response to gun violence is no more comforting for being so familiar. The initial burst of horror. The ricochet of blame. The benumbed kin struggling to understand why guns are so readily available to people who are dangerous, reckless or disturbed.

QuickTake Guns in America

There are peculiarities to this latest incident, in which two young journalists were killed and a woman was injured on Wednesday in Virginia. The shooting was broadcast on live television; the killer left a grisly trail on social media. What's consistent with previous violence is the gun.

Gun rights are protected in the Constitution, and the political environment is often (though not always) hostile to even the most rudimentary regulation of guns. But politicians are always eager to show how aggressively they fight crime. So maybe there's some benefit from a short explanation of how guns make crime worse.

Almost two decades ago, Franklin Zimring, a longtime researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, and a colleague, Gordon Hawkins, showed that the U.S. doesn't have an especially high crime rate relative to other developed nations. But the U.S. is far more violent. Every conflict, from the mundane to the serious -- not just domestic disputes and robberies, but traffic altercations and bar fights -- is more deadly in the U.S. because of the presence of guns.

Gun violence is not unique to crime, of course. A gun can explode in the hand of a curious child. It can facilitate a hasty suicide.

Crime control is necessary to contain violence. But so is an effort to deal honestly with guns. That begins with a realization that dangerous people -- criminals, but also the mentally unstable -- should be prevented from possessing firearms, and that laws will have to be changed to advance that goal. That realization broadly exists already, which is why Americans, including gun owners, overwhelmingly support a system of comprehensive background checks for gun purchases.

In the 1990s, Americans proved they were willing to confront a crime wave. Now they must find the will to deal with the gun wave. The brief lives of Alison Parker and Adam Ward are two more reasons not to give up.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.