Editorial: Only the American people can end this nightmare of gun violence

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Stewart Watson, right, of Baltimore, comforts Maranda Mincey of Charleston, as they both become emotional while visiting the sidewalk memorial at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Friday. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

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Addressing Wednesday’s horrific church shooting in Charleston, S.C., President Barack Obama was 100 percent right when he said “this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries . . . with this kind of frequency.”

It’s an American scourge, as American as apple pie.

After digging through the records, USA Today in 2013 calculated that mass killings happen somewhere in America about every two weeks, mostly involving guns. The shocking litany of gun-caused bloodbaths goes on: Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Columbine, Fort Hood, Washington Navy Yard, a Colorado movie theater, Northern Illinois University.

And now Charleston, S.C.

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People in other advanced nations shake their heads, wondering why we allow the carnage to continue. Many Americans wonder the same thing. Shootings in this country take the lives of 88 people every day.

Already, the gun zealots — not reasonable gun owners — are trotting out their foolish claim that the answer is more — and more — guns. Outrageously, a National Rifle Association board member blamed the pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, who also was a state senator, for the Charleston shootings because he opposed looser rules for the concealed carrying of firearms.

But the gun zealots can’t point to a single modern society that has reduced shootings by flooding its streets with guns. After the Sandy Hook mass murder, Mother Jones magazine analyzed 62 massacres and found that not one was stopped by a civilian using a gun.

By contrast, Australia, which once shared America’s frontier enthusiasm for guns, enacted tough laws after a mass shooting that killed 35 people in 1996. It hasn’t had a similar massacre since, and the risk of dying by gunshot has dropped by half. In some other countries with strict laws, gun violence is almost unheard of.

The soul-searing Charleston slaughter took the lives of not only the popular pastor and community leader, but also a speech therapist and high school sports coach; a grandmother who was described as the heart of her family; a 31-year employee of the public library; a recent college graduate; a grandmother with a warm smile; and four others.

Fine people, every one of them. And America failed them.

If we summon the political will, we can end this scourge.

We can’t wait for Washington politicians to lead us; they’re the ones who in 2013 rejected a sensible and bipartisan bill to expand background checks. As Obama said, “The politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.”

We can’t wait for state politicians, either. State governments have passed 99 laws since Sandy Hook to strengthen gun laws, but also have passed 88 laws to weaken them.

We must lead the way ourselves. We, the American people, must “come to grips” with this nightmare, as the president also said, and “shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”

What are we waiting for?

Who must die next?

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