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A hearse bears away the body of 6-year-old Noah Pozner after his funeral. Noah was killed when a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (Jason DeCrow/AP)
A hearse bears away the body of 6-year-old Noah Pozner after his funeral. Noah was killed when a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (Jason DeCrow/AP)

Globe editorial

A nation’s first priority is to protect its children Add to ...

A country that can’t protect its children from mass killers ought to have a hard time looking itself in the mirror. If it were an external threat, the United States would move heaven and earth to safeguard its children. And President Barack Obama needs to do his utmost to face up to the internal threat posed by guns.

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It won’t be easy. Neither was it easy to expand health-care coverage, but Mr. Obama’s pragmatism and leadership got it through in the early part of his first term.

There is no shortage of targets, so to speak. Federal background checks on gun buyers apply only to purchases from licensed dealers. As many as 40 per cent of guns are sold by unlicensed dealers. Then there are the assault-style weapons that can fire 30 rounds or more of ammunition. The AR-15 was the weapon of choice in Newtown, Conn. – the shooter fired up to 11 bullets into each child, according to the New York Times – and in the Colorado shooting last summer at a movie theatre that killed 12 people. In their current form, they are killing machines.

Canada and Australia have seized angrily on mass shootings. They didn’t throw up their hands – “sorry, our guns are more precious than our children.” Of course, none of these countries has a constitutional right to bear arms. But the right isn’t absolute, and can be subject to some common-sense regulation.

Australia is a good model for the U.S. After a massacre of 35 people in 1996, prime minister John Howard, a conservative, championed tough gun restrictions, including a government buy-back of newly banned guns; those laws were followed by a decade without mass shootings. Canada limited the ammunition-capacity of restricted weapons (the AR-15 is restricted to gun-club members in Canada), after Marc Lepine killed 14 women in 1989. Those changes saved lives when Kimveer Gill went on a rampage at Montreal’s Dawson College in 2006.

The number of multiple shootings in the U.S. is scandalous. Since 2005, there have been 431 shootings – yes, 431 – involving three or more people being killed or wounded. It happens on average once every week. Ignoring the carnage made Newtown inevitable, and without the “meaningful action” promised by President Obama, there will probably be another mass shooting soon.

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