The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Common sense on gun madness


OUR OPINION: Newtown tragedy demands Congress listen to American majority and act

It’s encouraging to see President Obama pursue comprehensive gun-control in the wake of the Newtown massacre, an event that shocked the conscience of the American people, by offering a package of reasonable proposals designed to put an end to the madness.

A proper respect for the rights of gun owners doesn’t mean Americans should feel helpless in the face of repeated incidents of mass violence by firearms. There is no legal impediment to an effective response, and there should not be a political impediment, either, NRA or no NRA..

For years, opponents have managed to block effective gun control legislation by wrapping themselves up in the Constitution and decrying any restrictive effort as an attack on the Second Amendment. That’s a smokescreen. Courts have made clear that the Second Amendment is not a bar to sensible regulation.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority ruling in the famous Heller decision in 2008 held that gun rights are “not unlimited.” Further, the court has said lawmakers can ban felons and the mentally ill from owning guns. Lower courts have also upheld other restrictions, such as bans on machine guns and sawed-off shotguns.

Newtown has become a tipping point in the national debate. President Obama’s initiative seeks to tap into the frustration of Americans, who have finally had enough.

A poll commissioned by The AP shows that nearly six in 10 Americans want stricter gun laws. Majorities support a national ban on military-style, rapid-fire weapons and limits on gun violence depicted in video games, movies and TV shows.

By a lopsided 84 percent, respondents want background checks for those buying weapons at gun shows. All of this contrasts sharply with earlier incidents like the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, when only 47 percent wanted stricter gun laws.

Congress already has abysmally low approval ratings. Do its members really want to tell Americans they’re wrong on gun control? They should have second thoughts about following the marching orders of the National Rifle Association and other anti-gun control lobbyists.

In some instances, Mr. Obama’s initiative would only close loopholes in existing law, such as imposing a universal background check on gun sales.

Some 40 percent of those sales are conducted at gun shows, over the Internet, and by private sellers, with no criminal background checks taking place at all.

That’s asking for trouble. Even the private sale of an automobile requires registration and creates a paper trail. Why shouldn’t the same be done for weapons?

Mr. Obama’s proposals for tighter requirements for mental health reporting and banning high-capacity ammunition clips should also fall within the scope of what courts have said is permissible.

So should reinstating a 10-year ban on high-grade, military-style weapons that expired in 2004. Weapons and ammunition prohibitions would not necessarily prevent another Newtown or Columbine, but they can lessen the probability of a repetition and curtail the carnage when shooters unleash a violent attack.

Mr. Obama and gun-control advocates will need overwhelming public support to break the stranglehold of the NRA and its allies on Capitol Hill, but history would not forgive a president who shirnks from this fight. Americans are tired of madmen with guns turning theaters, schools and even places of worship into shooting ranges. It’s past time to act.

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