Magazine article The New Yorker

Guns and Terror

Magazine article The New Yorker

Guns and Terror

Article excerpt

GUNS AND TERROR

Syed Rizwan Farook walked out of a conference room at the Inland Regional Center, in San Bernardino, twice last Wednesday. His first departure was abrupt but not extraordinary; his colleagues at the county Department of Public Health, who had recently thrown a baby shower for him, continued to sit through a series of morning meetings, with the promise of holiday snacks ahead. Farook returned, with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, and by the time they left they had shot thirty-five people, fourteen of whom died. In the frenzy, the fire alarm went off and the sprinkler system was activated, so that when the police arrived it was as if they'd happened upon the aftermath of a storm. On a table, they found three pipe bombs, rigged to a bright-yellow remote-control toy car.

The couple had driven away in an S.U.V. stocked with two AR-15-style semiautomatic assault rifles, two 9-mm. semiautomatic handguns, and fourteen hundred rounds of ammunition for the rifles and two hundred for the handguns. After Farook and Malik were killed, in a firefight in which two officers were wounded, the police searched the house where they lived with their six-month-old daughter and found about five thousand rounds of ammunition, another rifle, and twelve pipe bombs. The authorities said that all the guns, manufactured by Smith & Wesson, Llama, and DPMS, were bought legally, either by Farook or by a friend.

The Inland Regional Center provides services to people with developmental disabilities, and at first there was shock at the idea that the center's clients might have been a target. Then the news that civil servants had been killed made the situation seem, perversely, almost normal; some people hate the government, and in America hatred of any sort is never far from gun violence. Five days earlier, Robert Dear had walked into a Planned Parenthood health center in Colorado Springs, similarly armed with multiple weapons, and killed three people. By one estimate, there has been more than one mass shooting--defined as an incident in which at least four people are shot--for every day of this year. According to the Brady Campaign, seven children are killed by guns each day. After the Newtown school shooting, in 2012, there was a push to get a pair of modest bills through Congress--a ban on some assault weapons, the closing of background-check loopholes--but it failed. Gun laws are, on the whole, more lax now than they were on the day the twenty children and eight adults were shot dead. There are as many guns in private hands in America as there are people. The barriers to atrocity are low.

By Friday, law-enforcement officials had found a Facebook post that they attributed to Malik, pledging loyalty to ISIS. In a political culture less distorted by Second Amendment absolutism, this might have been a turning point for Republican lawmakers: Why not at least make it more difficult for potential terrorists to get guns? After the shooting, President Obama said that although there would always be people who wanted to cause harm, there were basic steps that might make it "a little harder for them to do it, because right now it's just too easy." In an interview with CBS, he noted that a person on the no-fly list "could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there's nothing that we can do to stop them"; on Thursday, a hastily prepared measure to address that died in the Senate. …

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