Still waiting for Congress on guns

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In the wake of another school shooting, this time in Oregon, President Obama last week was asked what he was going to do to stop these kinds of incidents.


Obama said there was nothing to be done until there was a “fundamental shift in public opinion where people say, ‘enough. .. This isn’t the price we should be paying for our freedom.”


Sadly, the president is right.


The package of legislation that Obama proposed in 2013 after the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut would have banned assault-style weapons, mandated universal background checks and placed a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines.


They were modest but prudent reforms.


But of course those measures faltered in Congress.


“The only thing that can change is public opinion,” he said. “If public opinion doesn’t demand change in Congress, it will not change.”


Obama also compared the United States unfavorably to other developed nations who have stricter gun laws, and unfortunately cited Australia as an example.


He lauded that nation for reacting to a 1996 mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania, with a ban of all semi-automatic and pump-action rifles and shotguns and an extensive, mandatory buyback program that collected more than 650,000 guns.


The buyback reduced the private ownership of guns by 20 percent and almost halved the number of gun-owning households.


But of course no such crackdown is plausible in the U.S. given our Second Amendment and tradition of gun ownership, and the president’s praise of Australia merely heightens fears by some gun owners that such policies are the true goal of reformers here.


Nor should the president overhype the threat of school violence. The statistics don’t lie. School violence in general has decreased significantly over the past 30 years, as has violent crime overall.


Moreover, the National Center for Education Statistics says there are at least 50 times as many youth homicides away from school as in school and 150 times as many suicides.


The public expects schools to be safe and districts to implement detailed safety protocols without becoming, as Gov. John Hickenlooper said last fall, “fortified castles or military installations.”


But they should also expect sensible, modest firearms regulations — even from Congress.


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