The 18-year-old shooter in Uvalde, Texas, said he was going to use his AR-15-style rifle to kill before he did it. He posted his intentions in online messages a half-hour before his rampage began. It seems, in that critical moment, no one was listening. If someone was, they didn't do enough to stop the carnage.
The nation is at a critical moment. Voters, regardless of party, are telling members of Congress that reform is needed on guns. The question is: Are they listening? Will they act in time to stop further bloodshed?
In a nation that enforces 21-year-old age limits on access to alcohol and cigarettes, repeated mass shootings by teens and young adults point to an obvious need for restrictions. Why does an 18-year-old have the right to purchase a semiautomatic rifle? And why hasn't Congress limited gun purchases in ways most Americans, across the political spectrum, agree are needed?
Voters support stricter gun laws
About 60% of registered voters (including more than a third of Republicans) support stricter gun laws, according to a poll conducted this month by Morning Consult and Politico.
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The Texas shooter, who would have had to wait three more years to purchase beer or a pack of cigarettes, was able to walk into a shop the day after he turned 18 to purchase his rifle. He bought a second gun a few days later as well as 375 rounds of ammunition.
Have to be 21?: Uvalde has House pushing a minimum age increase from 18
The Texas massacre came 10 days after a shooter killed 10 people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black community in Buffalo, New York. The suspect in that attack also is 18. He posted messages about modifying an assault weapon, and had made purchases at shops in New York and Pennsylvania.
Don't look away from Buffalo's tragedy: In our silence, racism thrives
California tried raising the age for purchasing semiautomatic rifles in the state from 18 to 21. But days before the Buffalo shooting, a federal appeals court ruled such restrictions unconstitutional.
The appeal court's ruling flies in the face of logic in a nation that stops 18-year-olds from buying alcohol and tobacco. And the ruling runs counter to the Supreme Court's decision in the 2008 Heller case that reasonable restrictions of Second Amendment rights are allowed.
It is "not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose," the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote.
In fact, federal law already restricts the purchase of handguns to adults 21 and older.
What are we teaching our children?: Who do you become when you are a child drilled to look for school exits and places to hide?
Studies have shown that when it comes to taking risks, decision-making and brain development, the young adult years are key to maturity. Requiring someone who has just entered legal adulthood to wait three more years before owning a weapon that can destroy dozens of lives in a matter of minutes is a reasonable restriction by any standard.
Feinstein introduced legislation to raise age
If legislation introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had passed when it was proposed in 2019, the country might have been spared this month's tragedies. Her Age 21 Act would have made it illegal for the shooters in Texas and New York to walk into the stores they did and purchase the rifles they used to kill innocent adults and children.
“It makes no sense at all to let an 18-year-old buy an assault rifle if he or she is too young to buy a handgun,” Feinstein said when she introduced the legislation in 2019. Three years later, the day after the latest tragedy, she made another plea for Congress to act.
The bipartisan willpower to save young people from themselves and limit their ability to make decisions about matters that could have negative lifelong consequences once existed. In 1984, Republican President Ronald Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act – legislation that raised the drinking age from 18 to 21. In signing the act into law, Reagan talked about the need for "a rebirth of an American tradition of leadership at every level of government."
It's easy to look at the state of violence in America today and wonder where that leadership has gone. Calls for its return have been made in unlikely places.
A strong example comes from Steve Kerr, an NBA coach who refused to talk about basketball after the Uvalde shooting on Tuesday. Instead the Golden State Warriors' leader emphatically called on Congress to "do something!"
"I'm tired of the moments of silence," said Kerr, who was an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Arizona when his father was gunned down in 1984 by two extremists at the American University of Beirut, where he was the university president.
Kerr called on senators to vote on background checks and mentioned Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who according to data from the Brady Campaign has taken more than $1 million from the National Rifle Association.
Two days after the Texas shooting, McConnell opened the door to bipartisan cooperation to address this deadly violence.
We appreciate that McConnell finally may be ready to act. But it should never have taken so long.
When Feinstein introduced her age restriction legislation three years ago, one person age 19 or younger was killed from gun violence nearly every three hours.
We have lost thousands of young lives because Congress has failed to act. It is long past time to end the bloodshed.
This editorial is part of a series by USA TODAY Opinion about police accountability and building safer communities. The project began in 2021 by examining qualified immunity and continues in 2022 by examining various ways to improve law enforcement. The project is made possible in part by a grant from Stand Together, which does not provide editorial input.
USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff and the USA TODAY Network. Most editorials are coupled with an Opposing View, a unique USA TODAY feature.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Texas shooting: Raise the age to buy assault rifles to 21