EDITORIAL | Through The Cracks: Could Lakewood Church shooting have been prevented?

(Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

The shooting Sunday at pastor Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston could have been much worse.

The shooter, identified as Genesse Moreno, 36, was killed by two off-duty police officers working security. Moreno had brought along her son, just 7 years old. He was shot and remains in critical condition. Another man, a 57-year-old parishioner, was wounded but has been released from the hospital.

Yes, it could have been worse. But many are asking another question: Could it have been prevented?

The shooter had convictions for several misdemeanors including assault and unlawful carrying of a weapon. She had a history of mental illness and was detained under an emergency detention order in 2016 after a court found she posed a substantial risk of serious harm to herself or others. Moreno's mother-in-law said Monday she suffered from schizophrenia.

Her neighbors in the suburb of Conroe had been complaining to police and city officials for the past several months about Moreno's erratic behavior. They said she made them fear being outside in their own yards because of her harassment and threats, which included pointing firearms.

Yet, authorities believe Moreno was able to legally purchase the AR-style semiautomatic rifle used in the shooting.

Conroe police said they did what they could.

"The review revealed that Conroe Police personnel handled the calls appropriately and according to law. Nothing relayed to officers would give authority to arrest or require mental health emergency detention; nor would any of the information have been an indication that the suspect would commit such a heinous crime," the department said in a statement.

And the police may be right. According to a report published this week in the Houston Chronicle, Texas law doesn't make it easy for officers to handle such situations. For the most part, misdemeanor convictions are not a bar to firearm purchase and ownership in Texas. Nor does the state have a "red flag" law that could speed the process of getting a court order to temporarily take firearms from mentally ill who pose a threat.

Moreno's neighbors did what they could. They reported Moreno time and time again. The police apparently did what the law allows.

Maybe it's time for lawmakers in Austin to do what they should have done a long time ago. Protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens is vital. But police must have the legal tools needed to combat a clear threat to public safety. And the public must have the assurance their cries for help won't go unanswered.

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