It was like an aftershock to the terrible mass killing in Newtown, the realization that even the slaughter of 20 first-graders and six adults would not be enough to move the nation past its puzzling incapacity to deal with gun violence.
But in the midst of that discouragement comes news that perhaps Newtown will make a difference. Congressional Republicans and Democrats who have long done the bidding of the National Rifle Association are showing signs of considering the interest of another group, the majority of Americans who favor new laws to reduce the rate of gun deaths.
On Tuesday, several U.S. Senate Republicans said they would not filibuster a gun control bill. Then on Wednesday, two pro-gun-rights senators whose votes on any measure will be pivotal, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said they had reached a deal on expanded background checks for gun buyers that would include sales at gun shows and online.
Broader background checks would be well short of all that’s needed, such as limits on high capacity ammunition clips and a ban on assault weapons, but it would be a start.
“I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control,” Toomey said. “I think it’s just common sense.”
There’s one way to get around the conservative taboo on gun control. Talk instead about common sense. They’re one and the same. If we want fewer victims of gun violence, do something about who can buy a gun and under what circumstances.
Manchin added another “common” reference to the usually polarized debate. “Americans on both sides of the debate can and must find common ground,” he said.
Keep it up at this rate, and we’ll soon get all the way to the common good.
Credit goes to Republicans for allowing a debate on guns, but President Obama deserves praise for not letting the subject go away. In other matters, the president has compromised too quickly or steered clear of confrontation. But on gun control he has taken up the cause given urgency by the Newtown massacre and refused to let the nation forget.
On Monday at the University of Hartford, about 50 miles from where the mass shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the president said, “Newtown, we want you to know that we’re here with you. We will not walk away from the promises we’ve made.”
Obama then flew several families of victims to Washington so they could appeal directly to Congress to expand background checks on gun buyers. They were heard. And perhaps now lawmakers will start listening to the country and to each other instead of having the debate muzzled by the NRA.
The power of the Newtown families’ presence didn’t reach everyone. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., demonstrated the depths of what Obama and gun control advocates are up against when he criticized the president for taking the parents of the Newtown victims to Capitol Hill.
“To me, that’s so unfair of the administration to put them into that position when this has nothing to do with them, and they know that,” he said. “It’s using someone’s emotions, someone’s tragedy to their advantage, and I think it’s morally wrong.”
No, senator, it’s morally wrong to say it has nothing to do with them. If it is about checking whether someone is unfit to have a gun, it has everything to do with them.