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Editorial: We are now sitting on a powder keg of our own making

Over the past week, the realities of the America we now live in were made very clear on the North Fork with the arrest of two students at one school for making terroristic threats and a large-scale active shooter drill at another school.

In Riverhead, a pair of high school students were arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat against the school. Both incidents came in the aftermath of the murders of 19 students and two teachers in an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school by an 18-year-old who had legally purchased two military-style assault weapons and more than 1,700 rounds of ammunition. Ukrainian soldiers defending their country against Russian aggression would be grateful to be armed in this way — here in America, a teenager can simply buy it.

These were not isolated incidents confined to the North Fork: Last week, Newsday reported that Suffolk County police responded to 16 threats of violence against schools — all since the Uvalde slaughter.

On a beautiful late spring Saturday in Greenport, a host of local departments staged an active shooter drill outside the school building. Inside, police officers drilled on how they would respond to an armed gunman. It’s difficult to imagine how a local police officer, running into a school building where an active shooter was killing students, could respond to someone armed with an AR-15 and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. 

Since Jan. 1, America has experienced 246 mass shootings. In 2020, there were 161 in the same five-month period. Last weekend alone, eight incidents occurred across the country that were characterized as mass shootings. As the Washington Post reported Monday, over the same weekend, AR-15s were flying off gun store shelves. 

In Riverhead, in perhaps a sign that recent murderous events are on officials’ minds, the town board proposed banning gun sales in the downtown area. Imagine a family with small children visiting the Long Island Aquarium and then walking along Main Street in search of ice cream — and passing a gun shop with pistols displayed under the counter and rifles and shotguns lined up on racks. The juxtaposition — guns, ice cream and children — is obscene.

Also in Riverhead, police arrested three men Tuesday for a burglary where a new shooting range is proposed and where a question remains about whether gun sales will be permitted. Two handguns and ammunition were stolen in the burglary, police said.

As some members of the U.S. Senate continue (as of this writing) to search for effective steps to take in response to mass shootings, Suffolk County has led the state in seizing guns under “red flag” laws. The New York Times reported that a 16-year-old in Suffolk told students on a school bus last March that he wanted to shoot their heads off and hurt himself with a shotgun. Two guns were taken from the boy’s house after a judge issued an order to remove them. 

One of the proposals under consideration in the Senate is the passage of a federal red flag law, which many Republicans oppose. New York is one of 19 states that have their own versions of the law. It’s been reported that other proposals under discussion include requiring gun purchasers to pass a safety course and undergo a more thorough criminal background check as well as a psychiatric evaluation. A waiting period would also be imposed before the purchaser could take possession of the firearm. Raising the minimum age to purchase an assault weapon to 21 is apparently off the table.

All these moves are just common sense — what smart people would do after something like what happened in Uvalde. If your home were burglarized, wouldn’t you want a security system to prevent it from happening again? Tragically, our country isn’t very smart right now. The hacks we send to Washington are a national embarrassment. If the murders of children in elementary schools have not moved these politicians, we can’t imagine what would. 

The debate over gun rights is set against a troubling backdrop: Domestic terror investigations by the FBI are underway in all 50 states. ISIS and al-Qaida are no longer our main threats. The enemy is among us. 

In a nation whose citizens already own something like 400 million guns, where lines appear outside shops selling AR-15s, we are sitting on a powder keg of our own making.