Americans are about to have the most vigorous discussion on guns in decades, and it's about time. Our national conscience has been shaken by last month's massacre at a Connecticut elementary school. But gun violence and personal safety are issues everywhere, and President Barack Obama's comprehensive approach to reforming the nation's gun laws should be embraced by Congress. These are sensible proposals that would save lives without jeopardizing the constitutional rights of hunters, gun collectors and other legal gun owners.
Obama asked Congress on Wednesday to reinstate the ban on assault weapons, which should be confined to military battlefields and have no place on our streets. He called for limiting the size of gun clips to 10 rounds, which is more than enough. And he wants Congress to require background checks on all gun sales, which would eliminate the gun show loophole. An estimated 40 percent of gun sales are conducted without a criminal background check, making it too easy for felons and other unqualified buyers to obtain weapons.
These are all reasonable reforms that have more support among the public than in a Congress fearful of the National Rifle Association, and the discussion should not be hijacked by the most extreme voices on either side. The NRA's shameful television ad that uses the president's daughters as pawns in its argument for armed security at schools is not helpful. The answer to gun violence is not more guns, and the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not being threatened by the president's proposals.
The president's executive orders reflect a broad approach and the recognition that there is no one answer to reducing gun violence and improving public safety. They include ensuring that states and federal agencies share information on background checks, providing more research into the causes and prevention of gun violence and better training on the handling of shooting situations.
Obama's recommendations lay the groundwork for a far-reaching conversation and meaningful changes. In the Tampa Bay area, local leaders are already moving in the right direction. The Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday rejected the knee-jerk proposal by superintendent MaryEllen Elia to post armed security guards in every elementary school. Board members called instead for a broader dialogue in the months ahead about how to both improve security and address America's culture of gun violence. In Pinellas County, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon also embraced that approach, saying that more armed officers in the schools is not the most prudent strategy for reducing the threat of an armed campus assault. And in Tallahassee, state Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, sent the right signals after a hearing on the matter Tuesday, saying that money might be better spent on hardening doors and other facilities on campus. Gov. Rick Scott also sounded a reasonable note Wednesday, saying he supports a thorough review of Florida's gun laws.
The Connecticut school shooting is a national tragedy, and Obama said that more than 900 shooting deaths occurred in the month that has passed. The president's proposals would not end gun violence, but they would save lives without eroding constitutional rights. The nation is ready for reasonable changes, and the public discussion should not be hijacked by the NRA.