Tuesday April 2, 2013

After the horrific shooting of 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, we became hopeful that real reform of firearms laws at the federal level would occur.

President Obama dropped the neutrality he had on the issue during most of his first term in office, tasking Vice President Joe Biden with quickly doing a study and coming up with recommendations. Several states, such as New York and Colorado, sprang into action to adopt reasonable gun regulations, and we thought that for once momentum would be on the side of sensible federal regulations.

State laws are better than nothing, but it’s well known that they are easily gotten around by transactions and guns available elsewhere in the U.S.

But, it seems, the horror of the Newtown slaughter has eased somewhat in the national consciousness -- and many in Congress are running for cover. Republicans in the Senate, for instance, are as usual threatening obstruction, abetted by spineless Democrats.

The president’s emotional call for "a vote" on gun regulations at the State of the Union has made it difficult for Congress to completely avoid the issue, though what results from the legislative process may well be far from ideal.

And the public seems to have cooled somewhat on the concept.

According to Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, a CBS News poll last week "found that support for stricter gun-control laws has dropped to 47 percent, down from 57 percent just after the Connecticut slaughter.


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Even among Democrats, support has slipped to 66 percent from 78 percent in February."

Still, the CBS poll showed 90 percent of support of universal background checks on all gun purchases, something that the National Rifle Association, the powerful leading lobby for the gun manufacturing industry, once supported. Now it vehemently opposes them.

As has been noted, it’s almost impossible to get Americans to agree on anything, so this level of support for background checks is phenomenal. Yet, it seems that even universal background checks may be too much to expect, given that Republicans appear to have enough votes to block any effective expansion of them. Milbank argues that President Obama waited too long after Newtown to push legislation. Maybe.

A Sunday article in The Washington Post about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, notes that gun legislation will be introduced in two parts in the Senate, with one bill focusing on background checks and preventing straw purchases. Reid also plans to have separate votes on an assault weapons ban and limiting the size of high-capacity ammunition magazines, according to the article. Any legislation that gets through the Senate will have a much harder time getting through the Republican-controlled House.

While the picture looks increasingly dim that a federal ban on the types of military-style assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown killings will be adopted by this Congress, it’s too early to give up on universal background checks on all gun purchases. The idea just makes so much sense: Why, when established gun stores have to run background checks, should other sales be exempt from this requirement?

We also still have hope that stopping straw gun purchases and gun trafficking, legislation pushed by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, may be passed.

"The entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten," said President Obama, appearing at the White House last Thursday with mothers of children who had been shot to death.

We haven’t forgotten. But now that the task of implementing sensible and meaningful firearms regulation while respecting Second Amendment rights has been taken up, it’s clear it’s going to be a years-long struggle.

Americans love instant gratification, but we have to be in this one for the long haul.

~ Mark E. Rondeau