If Congress is going to make a meaningful attempt to reduce gun violence, it will have to stand up to the National Rifle Association. The NRA's cynical and insensitive response to the Newtown, Conn., massacre is motivated more by self-preservation than public safety. President Barack Obama has provided a reasonable framework for beginning to tackle the complex nature of gun violence. It will require the courage of both Republicans and Democrats to ignore the NRA and put meaningful reforms in place that honor the 26 children and adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday to lead a one-month working group to deliver concrete proposals on gun control in time for the president's State of the Union address. Among the reasonable ideas that should be pursued: reinstating a federal ban on assault-style weapons, limiting high-capacity ammunition clips, and requiring even private gun sales to include a background check on the purchaser. The president acknowledged that no gun control measure will end gun violence, and he recognized the Second Amendment right to bear arms. But his sentiments track that of a horrified nation: The status quo is unacceptable.
Rather than embrace common-sense ideas that enjoy support even among many NRA members, the group's vice president, Wayne LaPierre, doubled down on the "more-guns-are-always-the-answer" stance and called for armed police officers and volunteers to guard every school in the nation. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,'' he said in a defiant address that blamed the media, the president, violent video games — everything except too many high-powered guns on the street — for gun violence.
The NRA also neglects to mention that an armed officer at Columbine High School in 1999 in Colorado engaged one shooter but did not stop him. Others, such as Florida state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, have encouraged changes in state laws that would allow schoolteachers to carry weapons — apparently in denial about the potential for deadly accidents or mayhem in the school environment.
The reality remains that for all the horror of the Dec. 14 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary, many more Americans have been killed by guns since then. As the NRA prepared for its diatribe Friday, news broke that four people were killed in a shooting incident in Pennsylvania that also wounded three state troopers. And it is notable that Wal-Mart and other retailers last week pulled assault weapons from their websites and shelves in recognition that the death of 20 children had changed public sensibilities.
The president is right: It's time for the nation to get serious about guns and violence, and it's time for Congress to stand up to the NRA and ignore its rants. Teachers and parents do not want their children to go to school in armed encampments. And the answer to too many high-powered guns on the street is not more guns.