No doubt the tragedy Wednesday in Wheeling, in which a former police officer sprayed the Federal Building with bullets before being killed, will go on the list of arguments anti-gun advocates use to urge enactment of severe new limits on firearms. It does not belong there, of course.
We may never know what prompted former policeman Thomas Piccard to drive to the Federal Building and open fire. Using a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol, he peppered the building with bullets before being killed.
This was no random killing spree, however. Piccard seems to have refrained from shooting directly at people. Only three other people were injured, by flying debris inside the building.
But one fact will be used by anti-gun zealots in attempts to prove one of their pet points: Piccard used a weapon some describe as an "assault rifle." Without bothering to inquire into other factors in the shooting, the gun-control advocates will seize upon that tiny bit of information.
But effective steps to prevent violence, whether involving guns or other deadly devices, should start with the people who wield them.
Clearly, something went wrong in Piccard's mind - just as mental illness of some sort is responsible for most shootings that claim multiple victims. Clues are emerging: Piccard had learned he had stomach cancer. At one point he had been in a drug rehabilitation program. At some point he had scrawled a Latin phrase translating roughly to "Abandon hope, all ye who enter this place" on the side of the mobile home where he lived in Bridgeport.
But on the other hand, some of those who knew Piccard in Bridgeport told our reporter nothing about him alarmed them.
Anti-gun activists devote a considerable amount of effort to compiling lists of firearms they seem to consider intrinsically more dangerous than other weapons. They should be using their energy to research people.
At some point, probably after weeks of investigation, something of a biography of Piccard will be written. Hundreds of similar profiles have been written about others who engaged in violent sprees and/or individual murders.
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people own the kinds of guns targeted by the zealots. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, have varying degrees of dislike for the government.
But the overwhelming majority never even think of commiting acts such as Piccard's.
Putting together the puzzle pieces - using information about Piccard and others to learn how to stop people from commiting horrific crimes - is vital Focusing on that, not gun control for its own sake, is vital if our society is to curb violence.