Gun-control debate heats up as proposals roll out
BY World's Editorials Writers
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
1/29/13 at 8:16 AM
President Barack Obama's administration and leaders of Congress, as they promised, have put forth some ambitious and controversial gun-control measures that include background checks for all gun sales and bans on so-called military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
In what is perhaps the biggest understatement of his tenure so far, the president acknowledged when he proposed such measures that "this will be difficult."
It might not only be difficult, it might be impossible. The forces for and against had already started mobilizing even before any proposals made it into writing. The passion supporting gun rights is almost palpable, as evidenced by the unprecedented buying frenzies that have been occurring across the land in recent weeks, and the fiery rhetoric that grows by the day.
The renewed effort to adopt some significant controls, of course, was spurred by the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December. Seldom has an administration reacted with such swiftness and such resolve in the wake of such a tragedy.
Knowing how difficult passage of gun-control measures will be, Obama already has put some steps into action by signing 23 executive orders, which include a mandate to make more federal data available for background checks and to spur more government research on gun violence.
But the major actions that most advocates feel are needed will require congressional action.
Statements from congressional leaders as well as rank-and-file members suggest passage of any major gun controls is many months away, if indeed any are ever adopted. Not surprisingly, Oklahoma's delegation, as well as those of other conservative states, remains staunchly in favor of protecting existing rights.
But there's strong evidence the American people are becoming more supportive of common-sense gun regulations such as universal background checks and bans on weapons for which civilians have few, if any, legitimate uses. Why should a buyer who buys from a licensed dealer have to undergo a background check, while a buyer who buys from a "hobbyist" does not? There's no strong rationale for that.
It's important to remember that while a ban on so-called assault weapons might have strong support among Americans, those guns are not the biggest part of the problem. Statistics show that handguns are responsible for most gun deaths in America, yet there's little momentum for addressing them. And there's no doubt that any attempt to further control handgun sales would be met by ferocious resistance.
There's also growing sentiment for getting more serious about keeping guns out of the wrong hands. It is difficult to predict whether mental illness will lead to violence, but surely we can do better than we have been doing.
There have been cases in which individuals treated for serious mental problems have been able to acquire guns because the needed information was not transmitted to the right people. There's no excuse for such lapses.
Obama said when he announced his unprecedented initiative that he will use "whatever weight this office holds" to push new controls. It's going to take that and a whole lot more to get even a few meaningful controls passed. But what might help is if the American people keep the pressure up. As Obama noted, " ... the only way we can change is if the American people demand it."
This will be a contentious, even bitter debate. But doing nothing about the problem of gun violence in America is not an acceptable option.
Original Print Headline: No simple task