Taking on the gun lobby

Sensible restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines must stay front and center in the debate


When President Obama and members of Congress finally start to examine the problem of gun violence in America, they should start by looking in the mirror. Cowering before the gun lobby, both Democrats and Republicans have failed to restrict access to high-powered assault rifles designed for mass destruction.

After last Friday’s school slaughter in Newtown, Conn., Congress and the President must begin to lead. That includes enacting legislation to restrict high-capacity ammunition magazines, toughen background checks, and reinstate a federal ban on military-style assault weapons that expired in 2004.

Gun control is not a panacea for violence. Leaders must also consider changes in the nation’s mental health system, school security, and other measures.

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But not every public place can, or should, be turned into a fortress. In the search for solutions, sensible restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines must stay front and center.

States have acted even more recklessly. Michigan lawmakers passed a bill last week that would allow some trained gun owners to carry concealed weapons in schools, day-care centers, stadiums, and churches. In Ohio, lawmakers sent Gov. John Kasich a bill that would for the first time allow guns to be brought legally into the parking garages under the Ohio Statehouse and the nearby state office tower.

In the aftermath of Friday’s carnage, these initiatives seem almost obscene. Both measures deserve vetoes.

The rants of the extreme voices of the gun lobby are no longer worth debating. Gun-control supporters do not advocate repeal of the Second Amendment, but no right is absolute. Courts have upheld restrictions on even the most basic right of a free society — the freedom of expression protected by the First Amendment.

Gun rights advocates often say guns aren’t the problem; the people who misuse them should be the focus. Granted, a gun in the hands of a reasonably stable person is not necessarily a threat. It can even save lives.

But a person without a gun, no matter how disturbed, cannot unleash the destruction that 20-year-old Adam Lanza unleashed last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He opened fire in two classrooms, using an assault rifle capable of rapidly firing multiple rounds and accommodating large magazines.

It’s unfortunate that it might take the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history — the murder of 26 people, including 20 children — to break a decade-long silence on gun control. Both Congress and President Obama have displayed a feckless lack of leadership.

Newtown. Aurora, Colo. Columbine High School. Virginia Tech. The list of mass murders in America over the past two decades goes on. After each one, we as a nation have prayed and grieved and said: “This must stop.” Each time, we’ve answered resolution with retreat.

Whether this tragedy becomes a tipping point, changing the political calculus against tougher gun control, remains to be seen. Earlier last week, a 22-year-old man, armed with a semiautomatic AR-15 and extra magazines, walked into a shopping mall in Oregon and killed two people before he took his own life.

In his second and final term, Mr. Obama has no reason to fear the political consequences of doing what’s right for the country. He and members of Congress can make overdue changes in the nation’s gun laws that would make other slaughters at least less likely. But first, they must find the courage to act.

President Obama pauses during a speech on Sunday at a vigil for the victims of the Newtown school shooting.
President Obama pauses during a speech on Sunday at a vigil for the victims of the Newtown school shooting.