Mitt Romney, in what his own staff called the first major speech of the general election, received a standing ovation last week at the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention in St. Louis. His appearance there, and the applause, was an acknowledgement of how thoroughly Romney has kowtowed to the "gun rights" agenda, and jettisoned the more reasonable approach to public safety he took as Massachusetts governor.
Just eight years ago, Romney signed a statewide assault-weapon ban. He long supported the Brady Bill, requiring background checks for gun purchases, which passed — with the support of conservative icon Ronald Reagan, whose shooting provided the impetus — during his 1994 US Senate campaign.
Now, Romney invents a personal history of hunting and gun ownership, and kisses the ring of the NRA's loathsome president, Wayne LaPierre.
It has become trite to contrast the crazed, paranoid rhetoric of these NRA gatherings against the real-world horrors caused by their lobbying success. This year, for instance, the convention took place in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida.
But to see what the gun lobby has done, Romney need only read his local newspapers. Terrifying tragedies have unfolded in the past week not far from his homes in Massachusetts and New Hampshire:
• Cullen Mutrie shot and killed Greenland, New Hampshire, police chief Michael Maloney, and 26-year-old Brittany Tibbetts, and wounded four other officers, before taking his own life.
• Nine-year-old Maximos Hebert of Hollis, New Hampshire, died after being found shot in the head.
• In Dalton, New Hampshire, Christopher Smith shot and killed Wayne Ainsworth, and wounded Ainsworth's husband, before killing himself.
• A man was found on a rural road in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, shot dead.
• Carlos Laguer sprayed a Chicopee neighborhood with dozens of rounds from an assault rifle during a two-hour shootout, injuring a police officer, before killing himself.
• According to reports, three people were shot and killed in Lancaster, New Hampshire.
State governments all over the country, including New Hampshire, have seen new Republican majorities pass gun-friendly laws since the 2010 elections. They have made it easier for more people to carry, and use, more weapons in more places.
But state and local laws are of limited importance. Only federal laws, regulations, and actions can combat the real problem: that if sellers and resellers of guns have even a few places to traffic their wares without fear of oversight, those weapons will then find their way to every part of the country.
Law enforcement officials, who are increasingly at risk, have pleaded for help. The number of on-duty officers killed by guns has increased almost every year since the assault-weapon ban expired in 2004, reaching a high of 71 in 2011.
Already this year, 14 more have met that fate, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. That includes a deputy sheriff in Arizona, who knocked on a van's window during a burglary investigation; the man inside got out and fired 29 rounds of military-grade ammunition from a high-powered automatic rifle, one of which went through the officer's armored vest and killed him. Authorities believe the same shooter, who was killed by other deputies at the scene, had earlier used the same weapon to kill a couple visiting from New Hampshire.