Cowardly Congress, Ruthless NRA, and an Impotent Obama Conspire Against Assault-Weapons Ban

I don’t have the words to describe the cowardice of Congress or the depravity of the gun lobby, which conspired to kill the assault-weapons ban. I can’t explain the apparent impotence of President Obama who vowed to “use whatever power this office holds” to convert the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School into commonsense common good.

Fortunately, Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News found the words:

Any fool knows that [Adam] Lanza couldn’t possibly have killed as many children as quickly as he did on the morning of Dec. 14 without an assault weapon in his hands. So how does the president and any other big politician who allows the gun nuts from the National Rifle Association to win again answer the larger question about weapons that make killings like the elementary-school massacre ridiculously easy: If not now for a ban on these weapons, when?”

His must-read column was illustrated by the pictures of 20 slain Sandy Hook students and this headline: “Shame On U.S.”

The ban on assault weapons sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California apparently died Tuesday with barely a whisper from media outlets or the White House. Black bunting should have hung from every window in Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democratic ally of Obama, told reporters that Feinstein’s proposal could not overcome Senate rules requiring the support of at least 60 senators before allowing a final vote. The proposal “using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. That’s not 60,” he said.

In fairness, the gun lobby deserves most of the blame for creating a political climate in which any regulation of firearms is viewed as an attack on the constitutional right to bear arms. This as much a financial issue to the NRA and its industry allies as it is a constitutional one.

But Obama and fellow Democrats shoulder a responsibility to reframe the debate around unassailable facts: The Second Amendment is not at risk; modest regulations would improve gun safety and strengthen the nation's noble gun culture; and nobody outside the U.S. military needs an assault weapon. Instead, the White House and Democratic lawmakers signaled retreat on the assault-weapons ban almost immediately after Obama proposed it. He didn't fight.

“We cannot tolerate this anymore,” a teary-eyed president told the nation after the Sandy Hook shootings. “We are not doing enough and we will have to change.”

I don’t doubt Obama’s sincerity, but it is fair to question the president’s stomach for hard and hands-on legislative campaigns in a divided Congress. Not only are the facts on his side, but so is the public. An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 52 percent of the public favor stricter gun laws; 91 percent support background checks at gun shows; 82 percent want to make illegal gun sales a federal crime; and 57 percent favor a ban on assault weapons.

Every member of Congress, every White House aide, and every National Rifle Association dues-payer should take another look at those numbers. Be ashamed.

Sure, there is a chance that Obama will eventually sign legislation that requires background checks at gun shows, that makes gun trafficking a federal crime and that provides funding for school security. These provisions would allow Democrats, moderate Republicans, and a legacy-seeking president to claim they did something about gun violence. And they might, in fact, help. But don't be impressed: If anything comes out of the GOP-controlled House, it's likely to be weakened.

Remember Lupica’s words: Any fool knows what an assault weapons is created to do. “If Sandy Hook Elementary doesn’t make every member of Congress take a stand against assault weapons in this country, then what does?” Lupica wrote. “How many small coffins do we need the next time?”