If, in the wake of the mass killings in Newtown, Connecticut, Congress does not summon the will to vote to ban semiautomatic weapons with large-capacity clips, then the institution will have blood on its hands.
If Congress does not act, then the next time a shooter armed with an assault rifle invades a school, a theater, or a shopping mall, and kills or maims multiple victims, then every senator and representative who failed to act will have the lost lives of the dead on their heads.
Since the ban of rapid-fire, assault-style weapons expired in 2004, inertia, cowardice, ignorance, and a bizarre faith in the need to be armed for the eventual right-wing overthrow of our elected government has kept Washington from doing its duty.
How can Congress fail to act in the wake of 20 children and six adults murdered by a lone gunman at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary?
At its long-awaited December 21 press conference, the NRA failed to confront the issue of assault weapons specifically and gun murders/violence in general (conference transcript available at nra.org). Even by its own tone-deaf standards, this enabler of mass mayhem remained brutally indifferent to the indisputable fact that the US leads the world in gun violence and murder, and that Newtown is but a heart-wrenching blip on the screen of terror.
As the NRA's hang-tough stance demonstrates, banning semiautomatic weapons and the large-capacity clips that make them even more deadly is going to be a more daunting political task than enacting national health care.
It is, however, time to smash the nation's gun culture. The way to begin is to restore common-sense meaning to the Constitution's second amendment.
Gun nuts say it guarantees citizens the right to own as many and whatever weapons they choose.
False. It provides for citizens in local militias, today called the National Guard, to own weapons. States, of course, arm the Guard today. And those weapons are stored safely in armories, not private dwellings.
Frankly, handguns pose a bigger threat to public safety than assault weapons. On December 14, 28 people (including the gunman and his mother, whom he murdered at home) died in the Connecticut shootings. It was horrible. Yet by comparison, by the end of October, more than 400 were murdered this year in Chicago, largely by handguns. This year's gun-related death toll in Boston is running at 38. Last year it was 50. Lone inner-city black kids shot in the streets don't garner the same sympathy as dead suburbanites. It's painful to say, but it's true. There was no national media uproar over this silent epidemic.
There is a way to put an end to this soulless foolishness, this publically sanctioned slaughter.
All independent gun shows — the source of the guns that kill on urban streets — must be banned. All gun dealers should be licensed by the federal government with regulation at the state level circumscribed by tough and tight national guidelines.
No citizen should be allowed to own a handgun that is not stored at a gun club at which all sport shooting could be supervised.
Weapons not suitable for licensed hunting or regulated sport shooting should be bought back by the federal government at retail prices. After this is accomplished, anyone convicted of possessing an illegal gun would face stiff penalties.