On Wednesday, President Obama vowed to move quickly in crafting proposals to curb gun violence. He put Vice President Biden in charge of developing the White House approach. He pledged to submit the ideas to Congress sometime in January. For a president long reluctant to discuss firearms and their regulation, this amounted to a heartening change of direction.
Yet many advocates of greater gun control grumbled in reaction. Not good enough, went their argument. They fear almost any delay, the opportunity for action slipping away as public attention turns from the shocking events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., young children slaughtered by a gunman last week.
Congress could act swiftly, renewing, for instance, the ban on military-style assault weapons and large-capacity magazines that expired eight years ago. It should extend background checks to purchases at gun shows, where 40 percent of guns are bought. Yet, as Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune suggests on today’s Commentary page, there is a strong case for taking a deliberate and comprehensive approach to the problem of gun violence with the idea of getting the policies right.
For too long, this debate has been locked in place, each side hurling familiar arguments, little getting resolved or enacted. No doubt, the gun lobby has exerted big influence. The president expressed his disdain for “some Washington commission,” gathering around the table, developing and presenting recommendations soon to be forgotten. The troubling thing is, the country has yet to explore fully what actually would work, and provide the basis for building an effective consensus.
Take the assault weapons ban. The concept is sound, the guns more killing machines than anything else. The previous ban suffered because of the many exceptions in the legislation. Now is the moment to craft a definition with the necessary bite, including, say, the Bushmaster semiautomatic carbine used in the Newtown shooting. That likely will require time, precision and care.
Technology has advanced much the past two decades. Are there ways to deploy technology smartly to curb gun violence? Our phones often require passwords to operate. What about a gun? Gun buybacks have been applauded. Might they be used in a better way, the federal government establishing a funding stream for cities?
Much talk has centered on upgrading beleaguered mental health systems. How, exactly, to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands? On today’s Commentary page, Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek explains the value in expanding Medicaid coverage. Perhaps a wide-ranging debate even will take up the question of requiring gun registration.
Part of the reason little action has been taken against gun violence is the difficulty of the challenge, starting with the more than 250 million guns in circulation. The president and others rightly want to seize the moment, the gun lobby and its friends on the defensive. Yet speed shouldn’t overwhelm the leading objective, laws that do as much as possible to enhance public safety.