Sandy Hook’s Legacy: Status Quo

Photograph by Charles Dharapak/AP Photo

President Barack Obama wipes tears as he speaks about the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, 2012, in the press briefing room of the White House. Photo by Charles Dharapak / AP

Consider the possibility that these two things are true:

– Nine in 10 Americans support the idea of more stringent background checks for gun buyers. The polls say so, and a share such as nine in 10 is so far beyond margins of error in polling that opinion on this appears clear.

– Better background checks won’t prevent people from picking up weapons of mass destruction and slaughtering 20 children in five minutes, as was done in Newtown, Connecticut.

“Criminals aren’t going to be checked,” the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre argued on “Meet the Press” last weekend. And Adam Lanza, who carried a military-styled assault rifle, other weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, wasn’t a known criminal until he had killed his mother, 20 first-graders, six educators and himself.

Authorities in affidavits filed in Connecticut this week reported that Lanza, 20, fired 154 rounds from his Bushmaster XM15-E2S semi-automatic rifle, and 10 magazines each capable of holding 30 bullets were found at the scene, many partly or fully emptied. At his home, where he had shot his sleeping mother in the head with the rifle, police found a holiday card from her with a check for him apparently for a semi-automatic pistol.

Yet almost four months since the shootings, polls show waning public support for tougher gun restrictions, and Congress shows less resolve for action with each passing week.

“Shame on us if we’ve forgotten,” President Barack Obama said at the White House yesterday.

What’s happened in the three and a half months since Newtown is that the debate over gun control in Washington has been condensed to the possibility of approving those background checks that most people still support and which the NRA warns will do no good.

So nothing will be done about assault weapons, or 30-bullet magazines, under this scenario, which of course is the NRA’s goal in representing not only the rights of gun-owners but also the business aims of gun manufacturers.  And by constricting the debate to what is potentially a feckless response to the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, the gun lobby will chalk up another hard-fought victory.

It could also be true that real advocates of gun control should listen to the NRA on this one: Background checks for gun-buyers won’t stop another couple dozen children from dying in five minutes.

Removing weapons of mass destruction from the streets of America might.

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