For his second term, President Obama has picked a fight with one of the biggest schoolyard bullies in the country: the National Rifle Association. Americans need to let Congress know they are on the President’s side, no matter whether they voted for him or not. There have been too many funerals to do otherwise.
Mr. Obama wasn’t up for this fight. He had done next to nothing about gun violence in his first term, and did not campaign on the issue for re-election. But the massacre of 20 children in a Connecticut elementary school before Christmas moved the President, just as it broke the hearts of Americans — at least those who were prepared to think as they cried.
The old political assumptions were suddenly put on the defensive. Now is the rarest of moments: a national leader standing up to break the NRA’s stranglehold on Congress and state legislatures around the country. Now most Americans, at least as measured by opinion polls, are saying that something must be done at last about unlimited guns available to those of limited sanity.
The effort to do what is reasonable and right may yet be lost, beaten down by the usual excuses and false pieties about the Second Amendment. Despite what critics will say, the President is not denying Americans’ right to possess firearms.
Mr. Obama is targeting assault rifles and large magazines that nobody has a constitutional right to own. These weapons are in the same general class as machine guns, which are banned without any plausible suggestion that they shouldn’t be under the Constitution.
The list of legislative proposals and executive orders announced by Mr. Obama this week is the stuff of common sense, not a threat to liberty. The assault weapon ban that was in force for a decade before the NRA’s minions saw to its expiration should be reinstituted and refined — and supplemented by a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Troops need such equipment. Ordinary citizens, who seek firearms for self-defense or hunting, do not.
Universal background checks for gun buyers are likewise essential — no more gun-show loopholes that mock the effort. And while armed guards in schools are not the preferred remedy, Mr. Obama has left that to school districts to decide.
There’s not much here that reasonable people could object to, but the fanatical NRA and its supporters will. Americans need to tell such extremists they are wrong, and to tell members of Congress to stiffen their spines.