NATIONAL VIEW: One lesson of the Indianapolis shooting

THE POINT: Strengthen the red-flag laws.

At 19, he already had a gun taken from him by police after his mother told them he might try to commit suicide-by-cop — to induce a police officer to shoot him. He had been committed briefly to a hospital for mental evaluation. He was questioned by the FBI. Yet this clearly unstable young man had no problem legally purchasing two assault-style rifles — weapons he used to slaughter eight people and kill himself at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis.

Brandon Hole’s ability to acquire guns so easily after he had been deemed by police too dangerous to possess a weapon speaks to many levels of failure. Law enforcement failed to take steps under Indiana’s red-flag law to prevent him from purchasing new weapons after they had confiscated one gun. The law itself is too limited in who can petition the court for suspension of someone’s right to own a gun. And lawmakers, primarily Republican members of Congress, refuse to recognize that no one, least of all a troubled 19-year-old, should have access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that are designed to kill quickly, brutally and in large numbers.

As investigation into the mass shooting continues, details of how the state’s red-flag law might have been used to prevent the rampage have only added to the grief of a community mourning the senseless loss of lives. In 2005, Indiana became one of the first states to enact legislation that allows authorities to temporarily take guns away from people found by a judge to pose a danger to themselves or others. In principle, it should have stopped Mr. Hole.

In March 2020, when he was 18, his mother reported his suicidal tendencies to police, and they confiscated a brand new shotgun. The law requires that once police take a weapon, prosecutors have 14 days to justify the seizure to a judge. A person deemed unstable by the court would be barred from possessing any guns for at least six months. But prosecutors didn’t pursue the matter, and months later, Mr. Hole bought the two assault weapons. Prosecutors have since said that because Mr. Hole surrendered the gun and committed no violent act, they had no reason to pursue the matter. They also complained that the law’s two-week turnaround is too short to conduct an investigation and that they are handicapped by their inability to get an individual’s medical records.

Critics of gun control laws predictably tried to use the case to buttress the argument that such laws are futile. But the law has proved effective in reducing suicides; a University of Indianapolis study showed a 7.5 percent decrease in gun-related suicides in the decade after its passage. The lesson of this tragedy is not to abandon the law but to strengthen it, including by allowing relatives to petition the court, and better enforce it.

No, red-flag laws alone would not prevent all firearm-related deaths, but they would help. So would universal and more rigorous background checks. So would a ban on the assault-style weapons that enabled Mr. Hole — and the countless mass murderers who preceded him — to kill with speed and efficiency.

The Washington Post