By MARSHA MERCER
About 85 people every day are killed with guns in America, but we’ve become almost accustomed to the casualties.
Only after horrific, high-profile shooting sprees do we talk about tightening gun laws. Typically, politicians in the thrall of the powerful gun lobby simply stall action wait for the outrage to fade.
But perhaps the massacre of 20 innocent children and six adults on a December morning will do more than restart the gun control conversation one more time.
Opponents of gun control say the murder rate is actually going down and no law can stop someone bent on mass destruction. OK, fine, but assault weapons and large capacity magazines – those holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition – make it easier for monsters to carry out their unspeakable plans.
Laws can make it harder. We owe our fellow citizens that much safety.
“This time,” the president finally said, “the words have to lead to action.”
Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to bring a set of concrete proposals within a month.
“I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this,” Obama told reporters. “It won’t be easy – but that can’t be an excuse not to try.”
Even those who wish Obama had stepped up earlier or that he’d given Biden less time should recognize this as a major step forward. We can hope Biden’s proposals will lead to meaningful legislation, not laws riddled with loopholes.
In the Senate, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., vows to introduce next month a ban on assault weapons. A military-style rifle was the weapon of choice for Adam Lanza in Connecticut and other mass murderers in shooting rampages.
And then there’s the House.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., incoming chairman of the House Judiciary committee, which has responsibility for gun laws, flatly said he won’t move any gun control legislation through his committee, despite what happened in Newtown, Conn.
“We’re going to take a look at what happened there and what can be done to help avoid it in the future, but gun control is not going to be something that I would support,” Goodlatte told CQ Roll Call newspaper. Goodlatte has an A rating from the National Rifle Association, which endorsed him for re-election.
Goodlatte later said in a written statement that he’ll “listen to and carefully review suggestions made by the president’s task force and other groups to see what we can do to prevent a terrible tragedy like this in the future.”
We’re accustomed to this same old standoff—the gun rights people in their corner and the gun control folks in theirs.
For the president to make good on his pledge, though, he needs to move Goodlatte and other House Republicans. The NRA says it wants to be part of the conversation and will offer “meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.” We’ll see.
Now comes Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, with the outline of a compromise. A 2008 Supreme Court ruling that disappointed gun control advocates could pave the way for gun control legislation.
The Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller struck down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban, saying the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected. But the court also said that reasonable limits can be imposed. The Supreme Court has upheld laws that prohibit possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill and that regulate gun sales.
Schumer, who grew up in Brooklyn and went on his first hunting trip only three years ago, says pro-gun groups should be more flexible, knowing that the court has affirmed the right to bear arms. Progressives, he says, should stop hoping a future court will overturn Heller and work within the ruling to enact gun control laws.
“The truth is, it was bad strategy to ever deny an individual right to bear arms and, similarly, the special place that guns hold in our culture,” Schumer wrote in an op-ed in Thursday’s Washington Post.
We’ll need more than the president and a senator from New York to change minds on this most polarizing issue, but Obama is onboard at last and Schumer has found a possible starting point. As Obama says, passing gun control won’t be easy, but that’s no excuse not to try.
Nobody wants to see so many tiny white coffins ever again.
(c) 2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.