Maine shooting will mean yet more debate on guns. Here’s what we should do instead. | Opinion

Mass shootings like the one Wednesday night in Lewiston, Maine, that killed at least 18 and wounded at least 60, shouldn’t happen. But they do. There will always be evil lurking in our midst. So, we must collectively do a better job of mitigating, predicting and handling them.

For the families and loved ones affected, this is undoubtedly a time for grief, mourning, fear and anger. But for everyone else, this is a time to examine again how a shooting like this happens and how it can be prevented. It feels uncomfortable to discuss now because spontaneous mass, violence like this feels so alarming and unnerving. Yet, if not now, when?

This tragedy will certainly ignite another debate over banning firearms, types of guns, or regulating again where they can be carried. Such a reaction is understandable. Fear is a common response to violence. But we’ve done that for decades. Clearly, we’re missing the mark.

Firearms have been part of America’s fabric since before she became a country, and our Second Amendment rights are etched into our history and our laws. Mass shootings are a modern-day phenomenon and so we must address what has changed in our culture today in order to prevent future tragedies.

What’s known about the shooter so far is a nightmare scenario: Initial reports suggest he was an Army reservist for 20 years and a firearms instructor. So, he had both the skill and training to carry out an attack on enemy soil, yet he chose to do so in Maine at a bowling alley and then a bar — both soft targets, or places people tend to be unarmed and there is little law enforcement presence.

So far, a Newsweek report that reviewed the shooter’s social media profiles showed he had far-right sympathies, liking tweets Donald Trump Jr., Tucker Carlson and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Other reports indicate the shooter had been experiencing severe schizophrenia symptoms since earlier this year and had been treated in a mental health facility this summer for two weeks, then released. Police had documented many violent threats from him this year.

In Maine, there aren’t any red flag or background check laws, but it’s also not clear so far if any of those would have stopped this shooter from accessing a firearm. Red flag laws or “extreme risk” laws that focus on criminal history, serious threats, and mental health, are worth looking into more. Twenty-one states, red and blue alike, have such laws, and they could be a step toward deterrence.

It’s not popular to say this because discussing gun laws and banning guns seems more concrete and specific, but as the last several mass shootings have occurred in soft target areas, Americans who are healthy, mentally well, trained, and capable, should consider exercising their Second Amendment rights when and wherever possible to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Lawmakers and policy experts must again renew debate over the types of laws that will deter unstable, violent people from accessing firearms. And we must engage in a robust discussion over the importance of better mental health treatment.

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