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On Wednesday, Australia was having a normal day — a day of no mass killings. As one waggish online headline put it: “Australia Enjoys Another Peaceful Day Under Oppressive Gun Control Regime.”

America was having a normal day, too. Two gun-wielding assailants in San Bernardino sprayed as many as 75 rounds at a social service center for the disabled, killing 14 people and wounding 21. The United States averages more than one mass shooting every day — an attack in which four or more people are shot. No other advanced nation comes close.

On Friday, the FBI said it is now treating the San Bernardino shooting by a husband and wife as an act of terrorism. One of the attackers had pledged allegiance online to the Islamic State’s leader. We’d have to agree — that looks like terrorism.

But let’s understand something. The common denominator in American mass shootings is not jihadist terrorism. Nor is it somebody angry at the boss. Or somebody infuriated with Planned Parenthood. Or somebody filled with racist hate. Or somebody filled with free-floating rage. Or somebody who felt bullied in school. Or somebody who is mentally ill.

Guns are the common denominator. Specifically, military-style assault weapons.

EDITORIAL


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From Umpqua Community College to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to the Washington Navy Yard to Sandy Hook Elementary School, there is no one motivation for mass shootings in America. To blame Islam is the ultimate in ugly selection reasoning.  But there is one tool common to all mass murders — a gun. And it is quite often an assault weapon, not the kind of gun used to hunt a deer or protect a home.

We don’t have to accept this. Mass shootings do not have to be the American way. Australia enacted tough gun laws after a gunman killed 35 people in 1996 in Port Arthur. Gun homicides dropped by 59 percent in the decade after the gun reforms were enacted, and there hasn’t been a mass shooting — defined in Australia as one in which five or more people die — since Port Arthur.

But Congress has ignored the gun carnage. Some states have enacted helpful laws, but those efforts are undermined by neighboring states with weak gun regulations. The guns used in the San Bernardino massacre were legal in California, but even if they had been illegal there, the shooters could crossed the border into a state with more lenient laws. Each year, an increasing number of crime guns come into California, which has relatively stiff laws, from lax states such as Nevada and Arizona. The same thing happens in Illinois as guns flow here from Indiana and other states where firearms are easy to obtain.

As a result, it’s easy to acquire a gun in America, even for someone with a criminal record. Data gathered by Harvard researchers from a forthcoming study estimate roughly 40 percent of guns change hands without a background check. Congress should close that loophole.

The shooters in San Bernardino, armed with two assault rifles, were not on the terrorism watch list, but even if they were, they could legally have bought the powerful weapons they used and the stockpile of ammunition found in their home. And terrorism suspects have done just that; more than 2,000 bought guns in the United States between 2004 and 2014, the Washington Post reported. And that shocking gap in our laws seems unlikely to change soon: On Thursday, the Senate voted against expanding background checks. It also voted against two other bills that would have made it harder for peopl the government suspects of being terrorists to purchase firearms.

After last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people, that’s beyond irresponsible. It leaves Americans feeling unsafe anywhere, never knowing where the next mass shooting might break out.

When will Congress stand up to the National Rifle Association? When will Congress enact laws that protect Americans from daily mass slaughter?

Follow the Editorial Board on Twitter: Follow @csteditorials

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