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Two months after Adam Lanza massacred 20 children and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school — reportedly using an AR-15 assault rifle with a 30-round magazine — media pundits, Congress, and even President Obama appear to be giving up on renewing the federal assault weapons ban.
A shortsighted, even cowardly, surrender to the ban’s intractable opponents threatens to undermine efforts to reduce violence, especially the kind that horrified the nation at Newtown, Virginia Tech, and Columbine.
In public comments, even the ban’s supporters seem willing to accept the status quo on assault weapons — provided they can secure politically more palatable gains, such as universal background checks, penalties for straw purchases, and a ban on high-capacity magazines, including the 15 and 30-round devices used in recent shooting rampages.
Such measures ought to become part of any sensible package on gun control. Still, they don’t mitigate the need to ban the civilian use of weapons that have no legitimate use for hunters, and are designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible.
Easy access to such weapons enables a deranged person to commit mass murder. Banning high-capacity magazines, while helpful, does not eliminate the power of these guns to slaughter people.
The federal ban on military-style assault weapons expired in 2004. With the support of the Obama Administration, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) proposes a new ban on numerous assault-style weapons, as well as ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
Her proposal would stop the sale and manufacture of 157 types of semiautomatic weapons, It would exempt previously owned or hunting weapons. These measures, reasonable and constitutional, should become a central part of the nation’s efforts to reduce gun violence.
In 1996, Australia faced similar choices, after a gunman killed 35 people in Tasmania. John Howard, then the conservative prime minister of Australia, pushed through an assault weapons ban. Gun-related murders dropped. Australia, which had 13 mass shootings before the ban, has had none since.
The prospects for renewing and bolstering the U.S. assault weapons ban are not good. Even Democratic senators who face re-election in pro-gun states regard the ban as political poison.
Still, despite the powerful gun lobby, the President has the support of most Americans. It’s time for Mr. Obama to lead, not to surrender.
Mr. Obama has already wasted one opportunity: Early in his first term, when Democrats controlled the House and Senate, renewing the assault weapons ban might have faced less opposition. But he was practically silent on the issue.
Politics is the art of the possible. At some point, proponents of an assault weapons ban might have to take whatever other measures they can get. But just two months after one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, it’s too soon for Mr. Obama and other supporters to give up.