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In our opinion: After Dayton and El Paso, we're giving Congress 21 days to move the country forward

Vice President Mike Pence follows President Donald Trump as he walks off after speaking about the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 5.
Vice President Mike Pence follows President Donald Trump as he walks off after speaking about the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 5.
Evan Vucci, AP

President Donald Trump outlined factors Monday contributing to the plague of mass shootings in the United States:

  • Easy access to firearms for those who are risks for violent behavior;
  • Untreated, undiagnosed or ignored signs of mental illness;
  • The glorification of violence through popular video games;
  • Bigotry and white supremacy, which could be lumped into a larger category of hate and rage.

So, what happens next? How does the nation go from tough words in a speech to action? How do Americans get some assurance that the weekend’s twin slaughters in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, don’t just fade into the background like so many other tragedies and become entries in a growing list of senseless mass murders?

The answer lies in decisive and tough leadership. President Trump should immediately convene the nation’s top leaders — not a useless blue-ribbon panel of experts but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, under the leadership of Vice President Mike Pence — and charge them with coming up with effective, bipartisan legislation within 21 days.

We are familiar with the normal political concerns. With Democratic debates already underway, the 2020 presidential season has begun, and participation on such a panel might be seen as awarding political points to a president seeking re-election.

Frankly, we’ve had enough of that sort of thinking, and we believe the American people have, as well. Now is the time for tough, practical and effective leadership from the president and concerted, real bipartisan solutions from the country's lawmakers.

If legislative leaders will not participate in such an endeavor, they should be exposed for not being up to the job for which they were elected.

Such a lofty group of the nation’s most powerful people would not need to start from the beginning. Arguably, the nation’s sad history of modern mass shootings can be traced back 53 years, to Aug. 1, 1966, when former Marine Charles Whitman went atop a tower at the University of Texas at Austin and began shooting people at random. Data concerning all that has happened since then is readily available.

Experts have studied every shooting that killed four or more people since that date in 1966, in a project funded by the National Institute of Justice. In an op-ed published by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, that study’s authors said this includes interviews with perpetrators, survivors, first responders and family members, as well as detailed studies of manifestoes, trials, medical records and other pertinent information.

The study found several common threads — early childhood trauma and exposure to violence; recent changes in job status or traumatic changes in relationships that could be identified as crisis points that lead to violence; the desire to study what other mass shooters had done and how they had done it; and access to weapons, either through purchasing them, illegally acquiring them or obtaining them from family members.

No law or group of laws will guarantee that no more such tragedies take place, and legislation is not the sole answer to such a big problem. But a concerted, bipartisan effort, rallying the nation the way Pearl Harbor, the race to the moon or efforts to curb cigarette smoking energized previous generations, would make a difference. It could put resources where they are needed most and attune people to factors and behaviors that ought to at least launch preemptive investigations.

It begins with the leaders of both parties being willing to put party aside in the interest of a better nation. Given the ever-rising toll of innocent victims, Americans shouldn’t expect anything less.