Shameful and disgraceful


Three months after the Newtown, Conn., shootings, the massacre of 20 children and six educators with an AR-15 assault rifle has faded from the public’s memory — or at least from the minds of the spineless politicians who represent them in Congress and the White House.

How else to explain the decision by Senate Democratic leaders to drop a provision that would ban assault-style weapons from gun-safety legislation they plan to introduce next month?

The official explanation for this surrender is the triumph of expediency over morality. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) says his party lacks the votes to bring gun legislation to the floor if an assault-weapons ban is part of it.

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But Democratic leaders, including President Obama, signaled more than a month ago that they were waving the white flag. Why would the gun lobby, and other opponents of the ban, negotiate with people who give up that easily?

Most Americans continue to support a ban on assault weapons. But instead of acting like leaders and marshaling popular support to pressure and shame the ban’s opponents, Democrats capitulated. They wasted another opportunity to reinstate the federal ban that expired in 2004.

Now it’s all but dead. The ban’s sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif), could offer it as an amendment to legislation Mr. Reid will send to the floor. By forcing Ms. Feinstein to go through the back door, though, other Democrats have already conceded the point.

Even so, Senator Feinstein should offer the amendment. If nothing else, it will give the public a record of whom to hold responsible the next time a massacre with an assault rifle occurs.

The overall impact of an assault-weapons ban would be minimal. The vast majority of U.S. murders are committed with handguns, not assault rifles. Millions of these weapons of mass destruction are already in circulation. A ban would not take them out, but only prohibit their future sale, import, and manufacture.

Yet assault weapons with high-capacity magazines have been used in many, if not most, of the high-profile mass shootings Americans seem most worried about. Banning them would be a start that we owe the victims of these shootings.

It makes sense to restrict weapons that are designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible, and that have no special use for hunting, recreational shooting, or self-defense. Other guns are better suited to these purposes.

“Shameful” and “disgraceful” are two words that come to mind about the Senate’s retreat. But even they don’t capture the horror of Newtown, Virginia Tech, and Columbine — and the cowardly refusal by lawmakers to do something about it.