When President Barack Obama promised to throw the full weight of his office behind new gun-control proposals, he did what any worthy president would do.
Mr. Obama had no choice but to stake his personal credibility on gun control, after last month’s massacre of 20 children and six adults in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Newtown was his 9/11, and he should be judged on his response. As he said, the Second Amendment is not more important than the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s not more important than the right of children to grow up.
The National Rifle Association is promising “the fight of the century.” And it is not only Republicans with whom Mr. Obama will tangle; he needs to persuade Democrats in the Senate that they won’t be squandering political capital on a cause that may be lost in the House of Representatives. Hence Mr. Obama’s plea to Americans to throw their voices behind him.
“If parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, if hunters and sportsmen, if responsible gun owners, if Americans of every background stand up and say, ‘Enough, we suffered too much pain and care too much about our children to allow this to continue,’ then change will come.” This is not just a test of a president; it’s a test of the American people.
The world has changed, as Vice-President Joe Biden said in an obvious allusion to 9/11. But Mr. Obama’s proposals do not alter the balance between liberty and security, as President George W. Bush’s Patriot Act did six weeks after 9/11. The measures that Congress will be asked to approve are far from radical. A ban on military-style assault weapons. A limit of 10 on the rounds that a gun can fire. Universal background checks on gun purchasers. And, among 23 executive orders (which don’t need congressional approval), he will renew gun-related research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had been blocked from the topic since 1996. Also, two members of his cabinet will be instructed to begin a national dialogue on mental illness. All these are desperately-needed, common-sense ideas.
Their world has changed, but most of the developed world has looked on in horror at the U.S. gun madness. As the U.S. prepares to face up to that madness, much of the world thinks: At last.