Herald-Leader Editorial

Renew assault weapons ban; Act now before next massacre

Act now before the next massacre

December 20, 2012 

President Barack Obama repeatedly stressed the time factor in his remarks yesterday announcing that he's appointed Vice President Biden to lead a team to recommend proposals to curb gun violence.

He began by saying he charged the team to produce specific proposals to reduce gun violence by next month.

Those proposals, he said, "I then intend to push without delay."

Returning to the charge, he said, "this is a team that has a very specific task to pull together very real reforms, right now."

Good. Because everyone knows that while the families of the 26 dead in Newtown, Conn., including the shooter, will live forever with the tragedy visited upon them by the massacre last Friday, political memories fade quickly.

The time to act is now.

Any legislation must include a ban on military-style assault weapons, a category of gun that has no real purpose other than to kill people, and the high capacity ammunition clips that shooters in several mass murders have used so effectively to kill and severely injure many people in a very short time.

Civilians don't need these guns — what Obama called "weapons of war" — to hunt or to protect themselves. Legislation must also close the loopholes that allow thousands to buy guns without background checks, at gun shows and other venues. We can do that and we must.

While the deaths of those innocent, fresh-faced first graders at Sandy Hook school have created this sense of urgency, they represent only a small portion of the tragic loss of life annually to gun violence in the United States — about 10,000 people a year.

In his remarks, Obama noted some of the gun deaths since Friday: a total of three police officers in two cities; three people in a hospital; a woman in a casino; a four-year-old who died as a result of a drive-by shooting.

Of course it's true, as some have insisted in recent days, that a ban on assault weapons and other legislation can't guarantee there will never again be a tragedy like that in Newtown. But they can help stem the tide of gun violence that has reached epidemic proportions.

And it's true, as Obama said yesterday, that turning back this violence requires changes in our hearts and our homes as well.

But legislation enacted by Congress, for better or worse, is one expression of the type of society we are and want to be and so plays a role in those changes.

Social Security declared that we didn't want citizens who had contributed to the society and economy during their prime to live out their senior years in crippling poverty. Civil rights legislation and the Equal Rights Amendment stated that we believe all people should have equal access to the benefits our country offers.

Lofty goals not fully achieved. But passing those laws changed the reality and the conversation, declared our intentions as a society to honor our seniors and live up to our founders' assertion that "all men are created equal."

It is time, way past time, to declare our intention as a society to reduce gun violence.

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