With the announcement of his gun-control agenda last week, President Barack Obama offered the country a reasonable, measured approach to tackling America’s gun problem. The president’s emphasis on universal background checks and a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is a good place to start. The National Rifle Association’s uncompromising response to the proposal is unfortunate and ill-serves the interests it purports to represent.
According to the NRA and its supporters, everything but guns is to blame for decades of gun violence in this country — including criminals, the mentally ill and unarmed teachers in our schools. While there is no question that some of these problems contribute to gun violence, the one common element in all gun deaths is guns, and the abuse of guns. It is troubling that the NRA seems committed to opposing any effort to control or moderate that abuse.
The NRA and its friends in the gun lobby will unquestionably have a significant voice in the national conversation regarding gun control. But in order to add credibility to their arguments, they should stop equating reasonable gun control suggestions with an assault on the Second Amendment; they should stop insisting that hunters and sportsmen need military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and the uncontrolled sale of weapons in order to pursue their sport; and they should reconsider their accusation that Mr. Obama is an “elitist hypocrite,” because his children receive secret service protection in their school while he has voiced uncertainty about the NRA’s proposal to put armed guards in schools nationwide.
We recognize, of course, that gun-control efforts are not likely to prevent mass shootings such as the one last month in Newtown, Conn. There are millions of assault weapons in circulation, and it may take decades for those numbers to diminish significantly. But had the assault weapon ban been renewed and tightened in 2004, as President Obama is now proposing, there would likely be fewer such guns in circulation today.
The gun-control debate in Congress presents an opportunity: It could set the tone for bipartisanship in the second Obama administration, or it could be one more example of the gridlock that has caused many Americans to lose faith in their government. The choice could literally be one of life and death.