Editorials

Call El Paso shooting what it is: white nationalist terrorism. Let’s declare war on it

After yet another mass shooting, the predictable proposals begin, ideas that either wouldn’t have prevented the attack (universal background checks for gun purchases) or that address one small thing that might not even be a factor (violent video games).

Instead, we must call the attack in El Paso what it is — white nationalist terrorism — and react with alarm and speed. That way, we can apply a framework that will actually address the problem.

We’ve done it before, when we were brutally attacked by Islamic extremists in 2001. And though there were missteps along the way, the U.S. has largely been kept safe from repeated spectacular attacks by such terrorists.

There are no quick solutions. The mass shooting problem, and the racism that fuels so much hate, aren’t going away soon. And tackling white supremacist violence won’t cover every shooter.

But by naming the biggest threat, marshaling resources and building national unity around tackling it, we can make real progress and ultimately save lives. Here’s what a serious, sustained effort to defeat the anti-Hispanic, conspiracy-driven hate that allegedly drove a young North Texas man to slaughter 22 innocent people in West Texas might look like:

MORE LAW ENFORCEMENT ATTENTION

After the Sept. 11 attacks, FBI leaders re-oriented the agency around preventing future attacks. Now, law enforcement at all levels need to make the white supremacist terrorist threat a priority.

It’s a challenge — there isn’t a central organization to pursue, as there was with al-Qaeda. Tracking and stopping individual haters is a tall order.

But almost without exception, there are signs that shooters could become violent. The Dayton, Ohio, killer apparently had a high school hit list that many of his fellow students knew about. Police need to take these threats seriously and follow up.

It’s not just a federal job. Gov. Greg Abbott and other state leaders have pushed state law enforcement agencies to supplement federal border security efforts. They need to make white supremacy a priority, too.

LEADERSHIP FROM THE TOP

President Donald Trump said all the right things Monday about America being no place for hate.

The problem is everything he said before that.

For four years, as an attention-grabbing candidate and as president, he’s framed immigrants in ugly terms, portraying a false picture of an invasion force at the border.

Trump did not directly cause the shooting. But his words and ideas offer refuge for the worst kind of conspiracy theorist and those who would turn to violence in response to the idea that white Americans are losing their edge in life or even being “replaced.”

It’s not that hard to be tough on illegal immigration without turning to race-baiting. The president has a lot to do to build any credibility on this issue. And if he can’t or won’t, the voters must hold him accountable next year.

YES, THIS NEW GUN LAW WOULD HELP

Expanding background checks is the preferred immediate policy of most gun control advocates. But many mass shooters have passed such checks to buy their guns. That appears to be the case in the El Paso and Dayton shootings.

A better first-step would be the creation of gun violence restraining orders, also known as “red-flag” laws. This popular idea would allow police, with a judge’s supervision and approval, to remove weapons from someone found to be an imminent threat.

We trust judges to allow law-enforcement incursions upon other liberties, such as the right against search and seizure, every day. Good judges balance public safety and individual rights, and they can do so here. Abbott, a former judge and state attorney general, has hinted as supporting this, and he should demand that the Legislature to enact it.

Law enforcement at all levels must ensure that information about potentially dangerous people is input into the right databases. This sounds stunningly obvious, but we learned after the Parkland and Sutherland Springs shootings that it doesn’t always happen. And we should consider whether in many cases, law enforcement needs more time to conduct a deeper background search.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn led an effort last year to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a good start. This is the nitty-gritty work of making bureaucracy function better and fill gaps that allow violent racists to slip through. It’s not dramatic, but it must continue.

HELP YOUNG MEN WITH ANGER AND FEAR

Trump talked at length Monday about the impact of the internet. But there’s a bigger issue -- young men who don’t know how to deal with anger, rejection or fear.

Boys are falling behind in education. The culture doesn’t often provide the best male role models. And yes, finding fellows online with tidy theories about who’s to blame can lead a vulnerable mind down a dark road.

Preventing radicalization is one of the biggest challenges of dealing with any terrorist movement. It’s a matter of education, opportunity and persuasion. To prevent mass shootings, we need an extended conversation about how to help young men do better — and be better.

These steps require a national commitment. There will be debates about how to proceed and difficult choices to make. But if we approach this problem with the same spirit as we did the Sept. 11 attacks, we can reduce violence and curtail hate. The victims of El Paso deserve nothing less to honor their memories.

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