Friday, September 29

The Editorial Board: Buffalo massacre proves again why military-style weapons must be kept off the streets

It’s not news that horrific mass shooting events occur with deadly frequency throughout the United States and worldwide. It’s also expected that, after every single one – sometimes with a short period of discreet silence observed first – gun rights advocates come out with their usual justifications for widespread availability and ownership of assault weapons. We’re sure we’ll see these arguments trotted out once more in the coming days, as Buffalo tries to process the Tops Markets attack.

A common line of reasoning we’ve often heard is that “a good guy with a gun” can stop a shooter intent on mass murder. That didn’t work on May 14. Heroic Tops security guard Aaron Salter, a former Buffalo policeman, fearlessly confronted the shooter as he entered the store, but Salter was gunned down after he had drawn and fired his own weapon. It was no match for heavy body armor and a modified AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Thus, a good guy – a very good guy – was murdered at the age of 55, leaving behind three children.

Essentially a military-style weapon, the Remington Bushmaster XM-15 used by suspect the accused shooter is the same gun used at Sandy Hook Elementary School and in Nashville, Tenn., the sites of two other mass killings.

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The suspect was able to buy it because it had been modified by a previous owner to limit the magazine to 10 round magazines; New York state law bans the use of high-capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds. After buying the weapon, the suspect promptly undid the modification with a power drill so that the rifle could fire 30 rounds at a time.

It’s disturbing that Payton Gendron was able to buy any gun. He should have been subject to New York’s 2019 red-flag law, which bars those who might cause harm to themselves or others from possessing any firearms. But even though, as part of a school project last year, the suspect had made threatening remarks about wanting to commit murder-suicide and was held for mental health evaluation, a red flag order against him was not sought. Gendron was able to purchase his weapon of choice a few months ago from a shop in Endicott, thanks to a clean background check.

And then he customized his gun, not only making it more deadly, but marking it up with the handwritten names of other mass shooters and other victims, as well as hateful racial slurs. Through these means, the weapon became more than just a killing tool, as if that’s not bad enough. It became a symbol of hate, a twisted totem glorifying the aims of white supremacist doctrine.

If this chain of events sounds all too familiar, it’s because it’s meant to. The copycat mentality here has been documented in the suspect’s lengthy online rantings. That includes the weapon, chosen deliberately because of its iconic stature as the way to kill as many people as possible in as brief a time as possible. We won’t dignify any of the suspect’s 100 pages of ramblings about gun selection and the glories of the AR-15 by quoting any of it. Instead, we quote President Biden, who said during his brief visit to Buffalo, “We can keep assault weapons off our streets. We’ve done it before.”

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