This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
As the traumatized people of Newtown, Conn., bury their dead, a growing chorus of
Americans can be heard saying, “Enough.”
After Columbine. After Virginia Tech. After Tucson. After Aurora. Something has changed. Call it a tipping point. Even many gun-rights advocates are so sickened by the slaughter of 20 little children and six educators that they are willing to seek common ground with gun-control supporters.
Here’s where we think the conversation could start.
• People should have access to weapons for self-protection, sport and hunting – as long as they are not criminals or mentally ill. That’s a constitutionally guaranteed right. But like all rights, it’s not absolute. The courts have allowed restrictions on certain types of weapons and laws that keep guns out of the hands of the most dangerous among us.
• The best way to ensure that – even if it’s not foolproof – is with a background check. However, background checks are only required when buying weapons from federally licensed gun dealers. Those who know they couldn’t pass a background check can get around it by buying from private parties. That’s the so-called “gun show loophole” – which really should be called the “private seller loophole.”
In those private exchanges, buyers in most states aren’t even required to show ID much less pass a background check. With two out of five gun sales in the U.S. involving private sellers, that’s a lot of weapons going to people who might not be able to buy them if they had to pass a background check.
That is unacceptable. No guns should be sold to people who can’t pass a background check. And states must do a better job of providing up-to-date information to the federal database used in those checks.
• There’s no legitimate reason for the average person to have access to high-capacity ammunition
magazines. They’re not needed for protection or for hunting. A 10-bullet magazine should suffice for either purpose.
That restriction was part of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that was allowed to lapse in 2004; it should be reinstated by Congress.
• Americans own an estimated 300 million guns, many of them military-style assault weapons. That’s an obscene amount of firepower on our streets, unsecured in homes, in the hands of criminals and easily accessible to disturbed people like the Newtown killer. The weapons he used were legally obtained by his mother, so no background check would have kept them out of his hands.
There’s not much that can be done about those weapons, but reinstating the assault-weapon ban would start reducing their number over time – especially if buy-back programs became more commonplace.
Of course these actions won’t end gun violence. Our society suffers from too much untreated mental illness and too much casual violence in video games and other forms of entertainment that certainly must have at least some effect on impressionable individuals.
But we have to start somewhere. Tamping the firepower and restricting sales to only those who can pass a background check are small steps. But they must be taken; they make a lot more sense than arming teachers and stationing guards at every school.
As a society, as adults, our most important duty is to protect and nurture children. We fail them when we fail to address the nation’s overwhelming gun culture that puts them at such risk. Enough.