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Since President Obama last month proposed the most sweeping changes to gun control in at least two decades, the simmering debate on guns and violence has turned into a street fight. In the end, neither those who favor more controls on firearms nor those who oppose them will get everything they want.
Still, Mr. Obama — perhaps for the first time in his presidency — has acted boldly and decisively in challenging Congress and taking on the gun lobby. Politically and morally, the President is on target.
The prospects in Congress for some of Mr. Obama’s proposals, including the renewal and bolstering of the assault-weapons ban, appear bleak. Even so, the President has the support of most Americans. He knows his best hope lies in stirring up a grass-roots campaign of supporters to put pressure on Congress.
The President is right to aim high. The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights advocates would not have shown the slightest interest in compromise if Mr. Obama had not gone big in the aftermath of one of the nation’s worst mass killings — the shooting deaths in December of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The President has issued 23 executive orders affecting, among other things, improvements to the nation’s background check and data collection system, response training for schools, broader access to mental-health care, new gun-safety standards and technology, and research by the Centers for Disease Control into the causes of gun violence. These are overdue steps he could — and should — have taken early in his first term.
But President Obama has gone further, urging Congress to enact more fundamental reforms, including reinstating the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004, limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, and closing loopholes that allow an estimated 40 percent of gun sales — those not made through licensed dealers — to occur without background checks. These private transactions include gun shows. Mr. Obama’s overall plan is expected to cost $500 million.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif) proposes a new federal ban on numerous assault-style weapons, as well as ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Her legislation would stop the sale and manufacture of 157 types of semiautomatic weapons, but exempt previously owned or hunting weapons.
These measures are reasonable, prudent, and constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Second Amendment rights are not absolute. The right to keep and bear arms does not preclude banning or restricting military-style assault weapons, such as those used in Newtown and other mass killings.
Assault rifles account for only a fraction of murders in the United States, but it makes sense to restrict guns and high-capacity magazines that are designed to kill as many people as possible quickly. Hunters and other gun enthusiasts don’t need such weapons.
More than 10,000 people will be murdered by firearms this year, many of them in struggling central cities such as Toledo and Detroit. Guns will be used in 20,0000 suicides.
The President’s proposals, even if they are enacted in their entirety, will not solve the problem of gun violence in America. Still, they would reduce bloodshed and save lives.
After Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, Chardon, and Newtown, it’s a plan worth fighting for.