Action needed soon on gun control


Speaking in the wake of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., President Obama said that the spate of mass shootings must end.

He promised to "use whatever power this office holds" to launch an effort "aimed at preventing more tragedies like this."

Even one gun massacre is too many, and we as a nation have permitted permissive private ownership of military-grade guns for too long. The massacres of the recent past are the result of that bad policy, and other massacres will occur unless we place more restrictions soon on semi-automatics and assault weapons. (Even then, we will have problems, given the saturation of guns in this country--not only in the hands of the rank amateurs who are their owners, but in the people, as we saw in Newtown, who are around them--the people not included in the cursory background checks that only sometimes are necessary to buy a tool meant for killing people .)

Unfortunately, Obama promised to utilize "whatever power this office holds" not now, not today, but "in the coming weeks." Nor did he give any real idea of action he could undertake as a result of "whatever power" the presidency offers.

Could it be legislation, the one thing that's obviously needed? Maybe it's a Blue Ribbon committee, which is another way of doing nothing? Maybe it's a presidential proclamation that dolphins are pretty?

Obama may very well believe he has a great one already on his hands with the fiscal cliff looming, and I allow that tackling one of the great divisive issues of our time--gun control--simultaneously with that may be too much. The latter immediately involves only money, but ultimately also lives, since federal social safety net programs are about protecting and sustaining them.

But it's still easy to be cynical, because of the vagueness of the promise, the lack of commitment to anything concrete, and the president's history of preferring administrative measures to legislative fights. Again, there are mitigating circumstances underlying that preference--congressmen elected precisely for their obstinacy and disinclination toward bipartisanship--but in order for real change to occur in gun laws, the president will have to lead.

It's also easy to be disheartened by the lack of tangible steps forward because time will inure some of those who are today inclined toward action against the shock of this latest massacre and make them less likely to act.

We are in a moment where the direct consequences of federal gun policy are dramatically clear; "in the coming weeks" must not become the same as "never." - Dave