By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
For me, the first sentence of a New York Times article, the Monday after the Aurora, Colo., shooting, says it all: “Unhindered by federal background checks or government oversight, the 24-year-old man accused of killing a dozen people inside a Colorado movie theater was able to build what the police called a 6,000-round arsenal legally and easily over the Internet, exploiting what critics call a virtual absence of any laws regulating ammunition sales.”
Reflecting on the movie theater massacre in Aurora, it’s hard to say what is more shocking: the fact that such a troubled young man was so easily able to buy an assault rifle, a shotgun, two handguns, and a 100-round drum; the fact that he was also able to stockpile 6,000 rounds of ammunition, legally, over the Internet, as easily as he could download a song; or the fact that America’s politicians, starting with President Obama and Mitt Romney, plus a crowd of cowards in Congress, see no need to do anything about it.
Why not? Don’t even try hiding behind the Second Amendment. Does anyone really believe that, in writing the Bill of Rights, our Founding Fathers intended to authorize building a secret ammunition dump in your own apartment? Or that they thereby gave future generations the green light to buy an assault weapon, purchase multiple handguns, and carry a concealed weapon into a bar, shopping mall, church, or movie theater? Nonsense.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the Second Amendment. And, as a Scalia originalist, I believe we should take it literally. Let’s bring back, in every state, as the Constitution so clearly calls for, a “well-regulated militia.” Let’s require its gun-toting members to carry and clean their own single-shot muskets, to wear the militia uniform, and to go out and drill once a month with fellow minutemen. But let all other guns be banned.
Seriously, this is insane. On gun control, we have lost our way — and our backbone. We have what Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne calls “eternal gutlessness on guns.” After any other tragedy, we look for solutions. That’s the American way. After September 11, we invented TSA. After Katrina, we built bigger levees. After the Wall Street collapse, we created the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. But after Virginia Tech, Aurora, or any other mass shooting, not only can we do nothing about gun control, we can’t even talk about it.
The obvious place to start is reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004. That alone would have prohibited purchase of the AR-15 rifle and the 100-round magazine used in the Aurora shooting. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chief sponsor of the 2004 ban, has vowed to renew the ban. But she’s not getting much support. Despite vowing in 2008 to reinstate the ban if elected president, Obama has since done nothing about it. Mitt Romney, who signed an assault weapons ban as governor of Massachusetts, now won’t go near the issue. And Senate Leader Harry Reid has discouraged bringing any gun legislation up for debate in this election year.
Another sensible measure: background checks for sales at gun shows — still important, even if they would not have prevented purchase of guns used in Aurora. A bipartisan Senate passed that requirement one month after the 1999 Columbine shootings, but it was blocked by Republicans in the House. It has not been taken up since.
If we can’t do anything about the guns, maybe we can do something about the bullets. But, here again, every reasonable effort has been shot down, starting with Senator Patrick Moynihan’s 1993 proposal to put a heavy tax on handgun ammunition. Last year, Senator Frank Lautenberg’s plan to ban clips that hold more than 10 bullets went nowhere. And the New Jersey Legislature recently shelved a bill to ban sales of handgun ammunition.
Such is the power of the NRA, the most dangerous lobby in Washington. By standing in the way of any sensible gun control measure, they have blood on their hands. Worse than the NRA, however, are the politicians afraid to stand up to them.
There is no need for anyone, outside the military, to own an assault weapon. There is no need for anyone, outside of law enforcement, to have a handgun. If we really value life, it’s time to do something about gun control. If not now, when? Hopefully, before the next Aurora.
© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.