Whenever a terrible mass shooting occurs, the pro-gun lobby — and politicians pledging fealty to it — argue that any particular gun reform proposal would have done nothing to prevent this particular crime.
President Donald Trump, who received $30 million in campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association in 2016, echoed this argument recently, telling reporters that so far as mass shootings "going back, even five or six or seven years, for the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it."
The problem with shackling your view to this kind of logic is that sooner or later, given the river of mass killings traumatizing America, there will finally be a tragedy that precisely proves this argument wrong.
That appears to be exactly what happened when Seth Ator — known as "El Loco" to his neighbors in Odessa, Texas — took to the highways Aug. 31 and began shooting people with an assault-style rifle.
During the spree, and before he died in a shootout with police, Ator shot and wounded a 17-month-old girl in the face. He gunned down a postal worker who was nearing the end of her shift, a father of two who was sitting in his vehicle at a traffic light, a man who walked outside his parents' home to investigate gunshots and a truck driver heading home from work. In all, seven were killed and 25 injured.
SECOND AMENDMENT FOUNDATION: Background checks policy shouldn't be decided on just Odessa
Ator, 36, never should have been able to buy a gun. He managed to obtain his AR-style rifle thanks to a loophole in the federal background-check system, anonymous law enforcement officials told The Associated Press and ABC News. A court had ruled him mentally unfit to purchase or own a firearm, so he was barred from buying a gun from a licensed dealer in 2014 after failing a federal background check.
Ator simply purchased his rifle in a private sale not covered under federal law — a loophole that would be closed if Congress passed universal background checks favored by nine out of 10 Americans. Private sales, including those on the internet and at gun shows, are not covered under federal criminal background check requirements.
An Everytown For Gun Safety investigation showed that in 2018, over a million guns were advertised for sale on one online site alone, and that many of those shopping for firearms would have failed a federal background check.
As members of Congress return to Washington, Trump is expected to introduce his "big package" of gun-control proposals in reaction to recent mass shootings at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 dead.
The House months ago passed legislation calling for universal background checks. The Senate should do the same, showing the same willingness as Walmart CEO Doug McMillon to defy the NRA. Walmart, which accounts for 20% of the nation's gun and ammo sales, will no longer market ammunition that can be used in assault-style rifles. Walmart had already stopped selling military-style rifles and handguns in all states but Alaska (an exception that was also ended last week).
"We encourage our nation's leaders to move forward and strengthen background checks," McMillon said in a statement.
Doing so earlier could well have allowed a toddler to grow up with her face unmarred by a bullet wound, a mail carrier to finish her shift alive, a father to survive a traffic light, a son to live out a day with his parents and a truck driver to safely arrive home to his family over Labor Day weekend.