Predictable caterwauling aside, President Obama's actions on firearms are modest, constitutional and overdue. They won't cure America's gun sickness but one life spared will make them worth it.

The president's hand was forced by congressional Republicans who have made it clear since the Newtown, Connecticut massacre of school children that no amount of bloodshed will motivate them to react to America's unique gun carnage. Republicans don't answer to Americans demanding reform, they answer instead to a special interest group, the National Rifle Association, which in turn answers to the gun manufacturers, gun dealers and others fueling America's gun addiction.

By expanding the definition of what constitutes a gun dealer, the president will require dealers at gun shows and on websites to conduct background checks. This initiative, which has long been sought by the Brady campaign in its heroic effort to reduce gun violence, will keep more guns out of the hands of people who pose a threat to others. Currently, half of all gun sales occur without background checks.

This initiative will benefit Massachusetts, whose relatively strong gun laws are undermined because of the ease of bringing in weapons from neighboring states like New Hampshire with weak gun laws. This why federal solutions to America's gun violence are so critical. The president will also hire more FBI examiners to process background checks. A needlessly lengthy background check gave the gunman who murdered parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina time to act.


Mr. Obama will also have the government research smart gun technology to reduce shootings. As gun law opponents like to draw analogies between guns and cars, it is worth noting that smart car technology is making cars safer, and the same principle can apply to guns. For that matter, driving a car requires a license, insurance and registration with the government, which no one finds unbearable. The same should apply to guns, and as courts have ruled that gun regulations do not violate the Second Amendment, it would be legal to do so.

According to the Centers of Disease Control, in 2014 Americans were for the first time ever as likely to die from a gunshot as in a traffic accident. Yes, cars do kill people, although unlike guns that is not what they are designed to do. Guns have only one purpose, and they and their users are fulfilling that purpose in America at a terrible pace.

The overwrought reaction of House Speaker Paul Ryan to the president's initiatives should puncture the myth that Representative Ryan is one of those old school "reasonable" Republicans. His claim that the president's action "undermines liberty" is transparently false — Mr. Obama is acting legally in a manner that predecessors of both parties have done over the years.

Beyond that, it would be welcome if Speaker Ryan and fellow Republicans would show concern for the liberty of school children, churchgoers, office workers and others who should be freed of fear of being gunned down in the workplace. And no, the answer is not more guns so armed civilians can fire away wildly in restaurants and movie theaters in a modern day version of Wild West shoot-outs.

Announcing his actions Tuesday at the White House, where he was joined by the families of gun violence victims and supportive public officials, the president showed the kind of passion his critics claim he lacks as he recalled the 20 first-graders gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in 2012. "We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom," declared the president, and indeed we have accepted it for too long. The United States is the only "civilized" nation on the planet that lives with daily gun bloodshed and the occasional gun massacre, and any effort to address this mayhem, however modest, should be welcomed by Americans.