Talking About Guns
March 18, 2011, 5:00am

New York Times – Editorial.

More than two months after the killings in Tucson, Ariz., and some 2,400 American gun deaths later, President Obama has finally broken his silence on gun violence.

In an op-ed article on Sunday in The Arizona Daily Star, Mr. Obama called on gun control and gun rights advocates to set aside their broader differences for now and support a worthwhile goal: fixing gaps in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System so that it would be harder for dangerous people to buy weapons.

His starting point was the “clear and terrible fact” that the Tucson shooter — a man rejected as unfit by the Army, deemed too unstable for college and thought to be inclined to violence by neighbors and school officials — was, nevertheless, “able to walk into a store and buy a gun.”

Mr. Obama said many state records on disqualifying involuntary commitments or criminal records are not being submitted to the federal background check system. He stressed the need for an “instant, accurate, comprehensive” system devoid of loopholes that allow dangerous people to avoid background checks altogether. He was alluding to the perilous exception for private sales by unlicensed sellers, including at gun shows.

“If we’re serious about keeping guns away from someone who’s made up his mind to kill, then we can’t allow a situation where a responsible seller denies him a weapon at one store, but he effortlessly buys the same gun someplace else,” the president wrote.

It was a promising start toward a sensible discussion of gun violence, even though the president stopped short of offering a specific legislative proposal or endorsing one already in the Congressional hopper. His to-do list omitted banning the big volume ammunition magazines that figured in the Tucson massacre and a long line of other mass shootings. The magazines have no defensible use outside of combat and law enforcement.

Mr. Obama owes the country muscular White House leadership to make sure his reforms happen.

Over the next two weeks, the Justice Department is planning to meet with people on different sides of the gun safety issue to seek consensus on possible legislative and administrative steps. A good starting point for those discussions is a new measure sponsored in Congress by two New York Democrats, Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Carolyn McCarthy.

The legislation would withhold federal money from states that don’t submit the required reports to the national database that determines whether a would-be gun buyer is legally prohibited from purchasing a weapon. It would also close the gun show loophole.

The National Rifle Association, to its lingering shame but to no one’s surprise, declined the administration’s invitation to talk — a sign of real disrespect for a president who has actually expanded gun rights. It also shows disdain for the well-being and safety of the public.