Inquirer Editorial: Children's lives worth action

Mourners grieve at one of the makeshift memorials for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. On Friday, a gunman killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside the school, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Mourners grieve at one of the makeshift memorials for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. On Friday, a gunman killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside the school, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) (AP)
Posted: December 18, 2012

There's no reason for Americans to be confident that the mass murder of 26 people, 20 of them children, at a Connecticut school will lead to stricter gun control in this country.

It didn't happen 13 years ago, when 13 people were killed by two shooters at Columbine High School in Colorado. It didn't happen five years ago, when 32 people were slain by a gunman at Virginia Tech. It didn't happen five months ago, when a shooter killed 12 people inside a Colorado movie theater.

For all the emotion President Obama showed in expressing the grief of a nation after Friday's tragedy in Newtown, Conn., it was hard to have any confidence in his statement that "we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."

Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney certainly let politics prevail in their campaigns. Neither mentioned gun control in their stump speeches, even after July's Colorado shootings. Such is the strength of the National Rifle Association, which contributes lavishly to Democrats and Republicans alike. Even presidents prefer not to tangle with it.

While the NRA was conspicuously silent immediately after the Newtown shootings, its choir had plenty to say. The Conservative Daily News website said weak gun-control laws weren't to blame, but it did fault "whatever social service system" that didn't intervene before the shooter became violent.

It's a valid point that many of the 62 mass murders in this country since 1982 might have been prevented if the assailants' mental problems had been recognized and treated before they and an easy access to firearms coupled to produce a tragedy. But figuring out who might become a mass murderer isn't easy.

The Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, 20, was known to be withdrawn - a form of autism was even suspected - but former classmates and teachers didn't remember him as dangerous. There were no obvious signs suggesting him capable of killing his mother before driving to an elementary school to kill innocent children.

Rather than trying to divert attention to mass killers' mental health, gun-rights advocates should admit being unreasonable in resisting any additional restriction on gun ownership. The three weapons that Lanza reportedly had may have been legally purchased. But that doesn't dismiss guns as part of the problem.

There is hope that the Connecticut shootings will boost efforts to limit the sale of the semiautomatic weapons that sportsmen don't use for hunting. But even if those restrictions get past the NRA, they would not address the larger problem that 300 million guns in this country is simply too many.

Defenders of the Second Amendment see it as sacred and not subject to alteration. But the beauty of the Constitution is that it is a living document. It embraces amendments that better reflect the values and truths about this country at a particular time in its life. The truth about America today is that it has too many guns, and too many people with guns who shouldn't have one.

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