President should get support on gun issues

January 17, 2013

President Obama is asking for more than he could possibly hope to get. The National Rifle Association, which has a death grip on many members of Congress, is offering next to nothing in the way of cooperation. Somewhere in the middle, we would hope, is a way to move forward to make the nation safer from incidents of gun violence.

On Wednesday, the president outlined his proposals in the wake of a string of deadly mass shootings, the most recent being the massacre of schoolchildren by a gunman in Connecticut. Among the items on the president’s “wish list” are a ban on military-style assault weapons, restrictions on the size of ammunition magazines and expansion of background checks to cover all gun sales. The president signed about two dozen executive orders to take other steps aimed at reining in gun crimes, and he’s also addressing the need to improve our nation’s mental-health system, but the three “big ticket” items will require support in Congress.

It seems almost certain that a full-scale ban on assault weapons is, pardon the expression, dead on arrival. But, at the very least, we would hope that the other two major proposals would receive strong support in the House and Senate.

The time is long past for our federal lawmakers to remember that they work for the American people, not the NRA, which has become less an organization supporting hunters and gun enthusiasts, and more a take-no-prisoners, give-no-ground lobbying force for the gun-manufacturing industry.

During Obama’s first run for the White House, the NRA whipped up hysteria by claiming that he would “take our guns.” That, of course, did not happen. When the president was running for re-election, the NRA warned that Obama had simply been biding his time in his first term and, if he returned to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., would most certainly start the gun roundup in his second term. Still not happening. But the NRA has never let facts stand in the way of its fearmongering.

With the assault weapons ban a non-starter, the president and his supporters should focus on the high-capacity ammo magazines and better background checks.

There is no legitimate civilian use for a 30-round ammo clip, but those magazines seem to be highly popular among deranged individuals who go hunting fellow humans. Making those magazines tougher to find won’t put an end to mass killings, but if a mass murderer has to reload more often, it gives his intended victims a greater opportunity to stop him.

It’s also estimated that perhaps 40 percent of the transactions at gun shows across the country occur without so much as a cursory background check. When convicted felons and the criminally mentally ill can obtain guns and ammo with the ease of using an ATM, we have a problem. As with the magazine restrictions, a more stringent system of background checks would not prevent all people with ill intent from getting their hands on the weapons they desire, but we can make it more difficult for them.

The NRA has suggested that we put police officers in every school to make our children safer because the best way to stop a “bad guy with a gun” is by employing a “good guy with a gun.” Unfortunately, history is littered with examples of the bad guys with guns coming out on top in such confrontations. Are we to put armed guards at every entrance in every school? Surround the schools with concertina wire? Build high walls and install moats? While school security should be reviewed and improved, as needed, turning our schools into armed camps is not the easy answer the NRA makes it out to be.

We hope that leaders in Congress and rank-and-file members will take the president’s proposals seriously, and take them up as quickly as possible.

Will any of those measures, or all of them collectively, stop all of the mass killings in America? Not a chance. But they might stop some.



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