Tighter gun checks needed as active shooter rate rises

The day before the nation marked the one-year anniversary of the mass killing in Newtown, Mass., another school shooting was unfolding in Centennial, Colo. It was only 8 miles from Columbine High School, site of a 1999 mass shooting.

Fortunately, Friday’s shooting at Arapahoe High School wasn’t as deadly as the ones at Columbine (13 killed), or Sandy Hook Elementary School (26 dead).

At Arapahoe, a student armed with a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, a machete and three Molotov cocktails killed himself after wounding two students, one critically. Although the shooter apparently was targeting a particular person, he clearly was prepared to cause widespread mayhem.

Add that tragedy to a long list – one that the FBI says is lengthening at a rapid pace, citing figures that indicate active shooter incidents have tripled in recent years.

The agency defines an active shooter as someone who comes to a scene with the intent to commit mass murder. He (and it is almost always a a he) may know some of the victims, especially if it takes place at the most common site for mass shootings: the workplace. But often those killed are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Much of the focus in preventing mass shootings has been on trying to identify those most likely to see gun violence as an acceptable way to address their grievances. But a new report by the American Psychological Association suggests that isn’t the best direction to take because there is no single personality profile that would predict gun violence.

A better strategy, the report’s authors say, is to focus on such preventive measures as school programs on nonviolent conflict resolution and tighter background checks on gun sales. That would make it harder for people to get guns if they’ve exhibited a history of violent behavior.

Currently, only federally licensed gun dealers are required to perform background checks in Washington and most other states. That has to change. The best way to do that would be for the Legislature to close the private-party gun-sale loophole with exceptions for antiques and gifts between family members.

Lawmakers likely will get that chance, as backers of proposed Initiative 594 to the Legislature looks like they will gather enough signatures. If the Legislature fails to act on I-594, then state voters will have a chance to vote on it.

With almost 80 percent of voters voicing support for closing the gun-sale loophole in a poll earlier this year, momentum is building for action.

Some critics argue that tighter background checks won’t end gun violence, that a determined would-be killer would still find a way to get a weapon. Perhaps. But there’s no reason it should be as easy to buy a high-powered gun as it is to buy a couch on Craigslist. It’s time to close the loophole.