America faces a defining moment.
Twenty innocent children slaughtered. Six brave educators killed trying to save them. The immediate outcry has been unprecedented. But will anything change? Will America finally cast aside the unhinged ideas of the National Rifle Association and begin to place utterly obvious regulations on guns that can, over time, make it harder for madmen like Adam Lanza to wreak mayhem? And can prevent at least some of the 30,000 deaths every year that result from this nation's gun-mad culture?
Our laws aren't just do's and don'ts to keep order. They define our values. If we allow this moment to pass without insisting on common-sense restrictions on weapons designed for war, we will be saying that what happened in Newtown is an acceptable price to pay for the Second Amendment.
Unequivocally, it is not.
There are three things that must be done right away:
Pass a comprehensive, permanent assault weapons ban. The ban authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that expired in 2004 was ineffective, but that's because it was riddled with exemptions needed to win passage, as The New York Times detailed last week. Many experts believe California's ban, perhaps the strictest in the nation, could be a model. Lanza's weapon, legally purchased by his mother in Connecticut, is not legal here.
Restrict ammunition purchases — require licenses and track sales, for example — and ban high-capacity magazines outright. Newtown, Tucson, Aurora and Oak Creek make it clear that high-capacity magazines have no place in civilian life. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat endorsed by the NRA, said last week: I never had more than three rounds in my gun. I don't know any people who go hunting with assault rifles with 30 rounds in their guns.
Close the gun show loophole. Forty percent of guns are bought at gun shows, where buyers don't need background checks. States like California have closed the loophole within their borders, but it's easy to cross state lines to shop.
These are the simple matters. Congress will need time for the more complex ones — particularly improving access to mental health care. And the country needs to grapple with the impact of violence in popular culture.
San Jose Mercury News