The funeral and memorial services have begun in Newtown. On Monday, family members and friends buried Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner, 6-year-old victims of the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Connecticut town will repeat the sad and wrenching gatherings, in all, 20 children dying, along with seven adults, at the hand of a gunman who unleashed multiple rounds before putting a bullet in his own head.
President Obama spoke for the nation at a service on Sunday evening, so many shaken by the events, wanting to express collective sorrow and support. What proved haunting was his quiet reading of the names of the children who died, all that promise vanquished, the questions hovering about what might have been done to provide a greater degree of protection. He pledged to “use whatever power this office holds” in seeking to prevent “more tragedies like this.”
As the president reminded, this was his fourth such memorial service. Practically everyone can cite the locations over the years, the Auroras, Tucsons, Virginia Techs, back to Columbine. After each mass shooting, the call goes up to do something — and then little happens. If anything, the country has been moving toward fewer restrictions on the purchase and ownership of guns.
That is evident in Ohio, Michigan and Florida. The president asked: “Are we really prepared to say we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard?” Yet, he has been one of those who has bowed to expedience. Will things be different after Newtown, a line finally crossed, perhaps in the innocence of the victims?
Know that the country starts in a difficult place, more than 250 million guns already circulating. This is a gun culture. The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed as much with its ruling upholding the right of an individual to bear arms. Yet that same ruling also found the right is not absolute. It left the door open to reasoned regulation.
Where should the country start? The time long is overdue for renewing the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. These guns too easily are killing machines. Worth banning, too, are high-capacity clips, allowing ammunition to pour from a weapon. The system of background checks should be expanded and improved, say, to cover gun shows, the site of a substantial share of sales.
Even taken together, these steps fall far short of adequate regulation. Look at Australia, where a 1996 shooting rampage triggered a sweeping buyback program for semiautomatic shotguns and rifles, registration for gun owners and a ban on private gun sales. This comprehensive response has curbed gun violence — with no mass shooting since. It is an argument for aggressive legislating. Yet this is America. It would be a feat to achieve a limited advance. It also would be a tribute to the young children shockingly gunned downed.