More gun victims


Another day in America, another gun atrocity. In Pennsylvania last Friday, a gunman killed three people and wounded three state troopers before he was shot to death.

Just before sunrise on Christmas Eve in Webster, N.Y., an ex-convict set his house on fire, hoping to burn down his neighborhood. He then ambushed arriving firefighters, killing two and wounding two others.

The sniper, William Spengler, 62, is also believed to have killed his sister. His suicide note said he would “do what I like doing best, killing people.” One of his three weapons was a semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle of the same make and caliber as a weapon used in the elementary school massacre in Connecticut.

Hoping to avoid the armed elephant in the room, some Americans say the nation should address mental-health issues to deal with gun carnage. So we should.

But it will take time and research to learn how to spot the behavioral triggers that will identify reliably those who are about to act out against innocent people. In a deficit-conscious age, people are also going to have to be willing to pour more tax dollars into mental-health treatment.

Another oft-repeated assertion is that the country should enforce existing gun laws rather than pass new ones. A report this week in the New York Times shows how close to fiction that suggestion is.

It focused on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the agency that enforces federal gun laws. The agency is despised by the gun lobby and has been without a full-time director for six years. President Obama has had no more luck with Congress than George W. Bush did in filling the vacancy.

Mr. Obama has called for action on a permanent director, and it should be among the first things the new Congress does. Lawmakers who fault the agency over the “Fast and Furious” scandal should ask themselves how much their enforced lack of leadership played a part in the wayward scheme to track Mexican gang members using guns.

It’s not just a lack of leadership. Paranoid opposition keeps the ATF old-fashioned, which gun lovers like and everyone else should deplore.

Instead of using a fully computerized system to track guns, ATF employees must often consult paper records. The National Rifle Association and others oppose a national firearms registry of gun transactions because they fear a despotic government might confiscate guns.

The killers are serious. It is time for those who don’t want to limit guns, even in sensible ways, also to get serious.