Robert Dear apparently shot several people in a politically motivated attack on a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic. After the fact, it’s painfully obvious that he was seriously troubled and not someone we should trust with a gun, let alone with a semi-automatic rifle. He was, as the Washington Post‘s Kevin Sullivan, Mary Jordan, and William Wan put it, alienated and adrift. He had assaulted his wife. He had bothered or creeped-out several neighbors. He was an angry and strange loner. He may have been a peeping tom. At some commonsense level, the man had serious issues.

Yet as far as I know, he satisfied no obvious criterion that would have made him a prohibited possessor of firearms virtually anywhere in the U.S. His wife didn’t press charges on the DV issues that might have blocked his access to a gun. To my knowledge, he was never convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor. He was never involuntarily committed or legally determined to pose a threat to himself or others.

An estimated 8.9 percent of American adults have serious anger issues and have access to guns. I wish I could propose some simple ingenious tweak. I’m not sure one can be found. As long as our gun safety policies permit anyone who avoids the narrow category of prohibited possessor to obtain powerful weaponry, it will be very difficult to prevent this sort of random atrocity.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.