Just hours after Elliot Rodger stabbed and shot six people in Isla Vista, California, before, apparently, belatedly ending his own wretched existence on this Earth, an as-yet unidentified gunman murdered four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium. The usual round of pundits immediately started pointing fingers at their favorite political targets in the United States as the real culprits. Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker found an opening to blame gun owners.
Christopher died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the N.R.A. That's true. That the killer in question was in the grip of a mad, woman-hating ideology, or that he was also capable of stabbing someone to death with a knife, are peripheral issues to the central one of a gun culture that has struck the Martinez family and ruined their lives.
I'm not sure why the means of killing half of the victims is "peripheral" if the means of killing the other half is a core concern. And let it be noted that misogyny has also been called out as the real culprit by other pundits with other axes to grind.
But Gopnik isn't alone. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also wants to "end the insanity" and tighten gun restrictions in the United States until they're…What? As restrictive as those in Belgium? Maybe he just wants national laws as tight as those in Connecticut, where new restrictions promptly met mass defiance and turned tens of thousands of residents into instant felons.
But back to Belgium. That country has rather tighter laws than those in most of the United States, including licensing and registration. Ammunition purchases are restricted along with gun ownership. Backgrounds are checked, including for mental health issues. Owners are required to justify their purchase of guns with a rationale, whether it's hunting, collecting, or the like.
That this hasn't prevented amok murders like Saturday's shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium is obvious. Nor did such laws prevent the 2011 mass murder in Liege, which took the lives of five people.
Laws aren't magical barriers against bad things. Really, nobody ever thought that Belgium's restrictive laws had disarmed the country. In 2003, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey estimated that the country's 11 million people had stashed 2 million illegal firearms to accompany the legally registered 458,000 in civilian hands.
The residents of Belgium and Connecticut would seem to have something in common.
Laws may define the limits of legally accepted behavior and the penalties for those who are caught crossing those limits, but they don't prevent those limits from being crossed.
And, sadly, researchers have yet to find any effective means of preventing spree killings. The Congressional Research Service is among the bodies that concluded that popular public health and law enforcement efforts show no promise in preventing such crimes.
That's not reassuring news to those of us who want to see an end to such killings, and to such killers. (Although it's encouraging that such crimes do not seem to be on the rise.) But if nothing else, it's obvious that the restrictive laws peddled as instant solutions don't just threaten liberty, they've failed to live up to their advertising where they've already been tried.