The Second Amendment right to bear arms is not more important than the right of children to grow up, President Barack Obama said in January. Judging from the gun-control compromise reached by Senate Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday, Mr. Obama was wrong. The right to bear arms is at least as important as children’s right to be adults someday.
The compromise between Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania achieves, at least in part, the number-one goal of gun-control advocates: wider, though still not universal, background checks on gun buyers. It would also create a national commission on mass shootings, with experts in mental health, school safety and guns. But no agreement was reached to ban high-capacity magazines or assault-style rifles, of the type used in the massacres at a school in Newtown, Conn., or a movie theatre in Colorado.
It’s a start. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough, given the scale of the problem, which Senator Manchin touched on: “We have a culture of violence and we have a whole generation who have been desensitized. If you go around and talk to young people of today, ‘It is what it is,’ and we have to find out how we can change and reverse that.” The United States government can’t change a whole culture, but it can and should limit access to the most deadly weapons. That it is apparently unable to do so after Newtown and Colorado explains why young people bear up under the violence with a frightening equanimity – “it is what it is.”
“It” has dimensions that continue to shock and horrify. This week, a four-year-old New Jersey boy picked up a rifle and accidentally shot a six-year-boy in the head, killing him. In Tennessee, a four-year-old accidentally killed a sheriff’s deputy with a gun. In 2010, 62 children from age 1 to 14 were killed in gun accidents in the United States – more than three times the number of children killed in Newtown, and one more than the total number of homicides in Toronto that year.
Let’s call “it” what it is. It’s a right raised to a religion, impeding government’s ability to act to protect citizens. Even though mass shootings are happening with frightening regularity – 70 separate incidents in the past 27 months – President Obama was unable to deliver on some of his key, hoped-for gun controls (he should not bear the blame alone). And children’s right to be adults someday is still not well enough protected.