Friday December 21, 2012

Today, the National Rifle Association, on the defensive for a change, will offer what it describes has "meaningful contributions" to the gun debate brought about the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, one week ago today. It seems unlikely the gun lobby has found religion in a week and there is greater potential for meaningful contributions from the gun task force that President Obama announced the creation of Wednesday to offer recommendations next month -- which would constitute remarkably quick action in Washington.

Safely and decisively re-elected to a second term, the president now appears willing to spend some political capital on gun control for the first time in four years. With a few NRA acolytes in Congress now expressing the heretical view that significant gun law reform must follow the slaughter of school children, there is real momentum for change and the Obama administration cannot allow it to stall.

U.S. Senator Scott Brown’s announcement Wednesday that he now supports a federal ban on assault weapons that he had opposed right through his failed campaign for re-election is of more than academic interest, as the Republican could be running once again in a Senate special election should U.S. Senator John Kerry be named U.S. secretary of state. Senator Brown said he had believed that it should be up to the states to enact such bans, as Massachusetts has done, but it must have been obvious to him that Wild West states like Texas and Idaho would never do so.

At any rate, he is welcome to join the cause, following the lead of among others Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who grew up in a family that hunted with guns. Senator Warren, who will succeed Senator Brown next month, has promised to sign onto a bill reinstating an assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004 after 10 years, when she takes office.

A ban on the kind of weapons that have no place in a civil society is not, however, the end game of gun control, but the beginning. A national buy-back program should be funded to encourage Americans to give up dangerous weapons that can then be dismantled and scrapped. A national gun registry is necessary and no more unconstitutional than a national vehicle registry -- in fact the DMV already has a database to work from. The NRA has blocked all efforts to computerize records of gun sales even though that would be of great assistance to law enforcement authorities trying to protect lives.

The assertion by opponents of new gun laws that we should "enforce the laws we have now" is rendered irrelevant by the reality that the agency charged with doing that, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is grievously underfunded and has not had a confirmed director during the entire Obama administration. Obama nominees have been stalled by Senate Republicans because their NRA masters have found them to be antigun.

The NRA won’t change its spots but the nation must change if it is to cure its gun sickness. For that to happen, the pressure for change must be applied relentlessly. More on how that can happen and who can lead on Sunday’s editorial page.