Lone Wolves With Guns

The damage done.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The worst mass shooting in U.S. history provides Americans with yet another opportunity to talk past one another. Unfortunately, they seem to be taking it.

Even before the names of all 49 innocent people killed in Orlando had been released, the arguments had broken out. The shooting by 29-year-old suspect Omar Mateen shows the U.S. must be more vigilant about homegrown terrorism; Mateen was born in New York and lived in Florida. No, it shows the urgency of the fight against Islamic State; he was inspired (though not directed) by overseas terrorist groups. No, it shows how important it is to speak out against hate; he was a homophobe. No, it shows the necessity of better gun-safety laws; Mateen was armed with an assault rifle, a handgun, high-capacity magazines and many rounds of ammunition.

Guns in America

In truth, everybody has a point. But it’s the last one -- about guns -- that comes with clear legislative remedies. So-called lone-wolf terrorists may be hard to profile, but that work can continue while at the same time Congress passes smart gun laws to keep weapons out of dangerous people’s hands.

Guns, not bombs, have become the lone wolf’s weapon of choice, and assault-style rifles increase the lethal potential of any would-be attacker. Al-Qaeda has even celebrated how easy they are to obtain in the U.S.

There’s no understating the difficulty of passing better gun-safety laws, of course. Yet it would be easier than setting up a system to log and track lone wolves in the U.S. It’s more straightforward than battling the tangled network of terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere. And it’s more tractable than fighting hatred.

The response of the gun lobby to the bad-guy-with-a-gun scenario -- a good guy with a gun -- is too simplistic. The more sensible option has always been not to let the bad guy get the gun in the first place, especially if he’s suspected of having ties to terrorists.

Sunday morning’s massacre presents opponents of safer gun laws with a truly chilling scenario: a lone wolf with a gun, and lots of ammunition. Surely they will want to join with the rest of America, and the world, in working to prevent that.

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