The failure of political leaders and law enforcement entities to effectively address the nation’s mass shooting epidemic moved from Uvalde to the Chicago suburb of Highland Park this week when an aggrieved young man with a rapid fire assault weapon fired indiscriminately into July Fourth parade goers, leaving seven dead and two dozen wounded .

A court hearing revealed that after fleeing, Robert Crimo III, the 21-year-old shooter, considered initiating a second massacre in Madison, Wisconsin, before driving back into Illinois and attempting unsuccessfully to evade capture. While he left behind the semiautomatic weapon he used to fire at least 83 times into the parade goers, Crimo had a second weapon and ammunition cache ready to go in his vehicle.

One evident takeaway from both the Uvalde and Highland Park incidents is that preventive measures intended to stop violence-prone young men from obtaining high powered rifles and assault weapons are not working.

A Washington Post article details at least two times law enforcement in Highland Park and Illinois State Police learned of the danger Crimo presented to himself and others, yet failed to take steps to prevent him from obtaining firearms, or challenge the indefensible decision by Crimo’s father to co-sign a gun purchasing application while his son was still underage.

Existing gun safety laws are no match for today’s killers as they travel down an alternate reality path to violence.

The clues to who will become America’s next mass shooter now come in many instances from social media posts or peer reports of individuals demonstrating highly disturbing behavior. Both occurred in the case of Crimo. Unfortunately social media platforms and local authorities alike failed to act in the face of such evidence.

In the case of Uvalde’s mass shooting, for example, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos sent messages to peers expressing impulses to rape and murder that went unreported to the proper school authorities and police.

Traditional background checks fail to detect the aberrant behavior of young men with no criminal conviction records. Even when law enforcement agencies learn an individual is behaving in strange and disturbing ways, as occurred in Highland Park, a failure to act has led to disastrous consequences.

Before the videos were finally removed from YouTube, I viewed the chilling cartoonish postings by Crimo. Posing as Awake the Rapper in one video set to music with a rambling narration, Crimo shows a male figure with an assault weapon stalking other humans and eventually being gunned down in a pool of blood by police.

The video is a black, white and bloody red signal that should have been flagged by social media operators as clear evidence of preventable violence in the making. Where were his parents as Crimo devolved into a killer inside his home? What responsibility should they now bear?

The new gun safety measure recently signed into law by President Joe Biden was a step forward, but it would not have prevented the Uvalde massacre of 19 young school children and two of their teachers and it did not prevent the July Fourth mass shooting. Much more is needed, starting with an outright ban on assault weapons, or barring that, raising the age of eligible purchasers from 18 to 21 and subjecting them to a far more thorough background check.

Federal and state databases, lawmakers should recognize, do not tell the whole story.

Unlike Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sidestepping new gun safety laws in the wake of the Uvalde mass shooting, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker got it right after the Highland Park shooting when he criticized politicians standing in the way of new restrictions and urged voters to respond: “If you are angry today, I’m here to tell you to be angry,” he said. “I’m furious. I’m furious that yet more innocent lives were taken by gun violence.”

Public outrage in the wake of mass shootings at school, churches and other places where people gather in good faith often has faded with time, but the growing frequency and body count of so many horrifying acts may result in a political shift nationally. Voters might finally force elected Republicans and some Democrats to put public safety above their own reelection obsessions and start to enact real laws that address gun violence in the U.S.

Any new laws have to address the failure of social media companies to police violent and threatening content on their platforms, and create more practical mechanisms at the community levels for peers to report disturbing behavior to responsible authorities. Both parties should be able to agree far more pressure needs to be placed on social media companies with real penalties, including criminal prosecution, for noncompliance.

Red flag laws would have prevented Crimo and his irresponsible father from legally purchasing firearms in Illinois. Enhanced reporting requirements by firearms dealers in Texas would have alerted authorities to the threat of Ramos, who purchased two assault weapons and 1,600 rounds of ammunition in the space of a few days after turning 18.

No single measure can curb mass shootings or gun violence, but a comprehensive, bipartisan effort to address the crisis can make a difference if voters are finally willing to hold politicians accountable to something other than their base and their extreme views.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.