Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
The worst — and best — of this country was reflected in Saturday's deadly attack on a Colorado Springs nightclub.
The bar, Club Q, caters to the city's LGBTQ community. It allegedly was targeted by 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, who on Monday was charged with murder and hate crimes in the assault that killed five and injured at least 25 patrons. Aldrich was seen on surveillance footage arriving at the club in body armor and allegedly using an AR-15-style rifle while carrying another weapon.
While much more needs to be learned about this specific suspect and the Club Q attack, it's undeniable that despite the progress on LGBTQ rights in America, unabated hate for the community continues in some quarters, often stoked online by like-minded individuals.
Such hatred is a scourge upon our society. So too is the easy availability of weapons meant for warfare that often end up in the hands of people like Aldrich.
"When will we decide we've had enough?" President Joe Biden said in a statement reacting to the attack. "We must address the public health epidemic in all its forms."
One attempt to do just that — Colorado's red-flag law — proved tragically inadequate in this case, even though Aldrich allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb last year. Despite this, no charges were filed, and neither relatives nor law enforcement attempted to invoke the red-flag law meant to take weapons away from dangerous individuals.
This inaction is part of a broader national trend, according to a September Associated Press analysis of 19 states and the District of Columbia that have versions of red-flag laws. Overall, the AP concluded, "many U.S. states barely use the red flag laws touted as the most powerful tool to stop gun violence before it happens, a trend blamed on a lack of awareness of the laws and resistance by some authorities to enforce them even as shootings and gun deaths soar."
Sometimes it's not state but local or county officials who are recalcitrant in using the law. El Paso County, home of Colorado Springs, "appears particularly hostile to the law," the AP reported. The county joined nearly 2,000 nationwide "in declaring themselves 'Second Amendment Sanctuaries' that protect the constitutional right to bear arms, passing a 2019 resolution that says the red flag law 'infringes upon the inalienable rights of law-abiding citizens' by ordering police to 'forcibly enter premises and seize a citizen's property with no evidence of a crime.'"
An investigation will reveal whether Aldrich's family or local authorities should have acted. It's not too early to echo the words of Colorado state Rep. Tom Sullivan, a sponsor of Colorado's red-flag law whose son was killed in another mass shooting in the state: "We need heroes beforehand — parents, co-workers, friends who are seeing someone go down this path."
Thankfully, there were heroes at Club Q, according to Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez. He said two patrons subdued Aldrich by taking away his handgun and not shooting but hitting him with it, then pinning down the alleged assailant until police arrived.
"We owe them a great debt of thanks," Vasquez said.
Indeed, the entire nation does. Perhaps it can return the favor by changing America's ludicrously lax gun laws and addressing hate against members of a community that has suffered so much discrimination. Saturday's attack occurred right before Sunday's Transgender Day of Remembrance, meant to honor murdered transgender Americans.
In pressing for LGBTQ-protection legislation, Biden said in a separate statement, "This is a matter of safety and basic dignity. As we mourn the lives we've lost, let us continue building a country where every American can live free from fear and discrimination."