U.S. ready to talk gun control

Family members of the victims of Friday's mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., comfort each other, Sunday in Aurora, Colo., at a prayer vigil for the victims.

Most of the nation’s political leaders, afraid of incurring the wrath of the powerful, wealthy National Rifle Association, have judiciously avoided a serious national conversation about gun control.

And while there is no determining whether last week’s massacre in Aurora, Colo., could have been averted or mitigated by stricter gun laws, the horrific event certainly calls for a conversation on the issue.

That dialogue actually has begun in the U.S. Senate where Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., says said he will advance legislation this week to ban the sale of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition at a time.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has said doing so would infringe on Americans’ constitutional rights.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants more data showing whether or not gun laws actually deter crime.

The constitutional issue and statistical analysis should be part of the debate — not a reason to stop the discussion at the outset.

Missing in the conversation have been President Barack Obama and his opponent Mitt Romney, both of whom have disappointed gun control advocates by their silence.

While campaigning for president in 2008, Mr. Obama said he would reinstitute the ban on assault weapons. Mr. Romney favored gun control when he was governor of Massachusetts. But neither has used his bully pulpit to follow up on the subject.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an outspoken advocate of gun control, was quick to criticize both men for avoiding the issue.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has been reluctant to talk about gun laws since the attack. And indeed, his focus should be on the victims and their families — on comforting a city and state in shock and mourning.

Further, it would be insensitive to politicize the shootings at this point, though, as columnist Cal Thomas points out on our Commentary page, that was the early response of some in the media.

There is no indication yet what triggered the rampage and no reason at this point to think it was politically motivated.

But shootings and guns and assault weapons are clearly on the mind of the nation now, and those political leaders who have been too scared to broach the subject have an imperative to do so.

Let’s start by having gun rights advocates and gun control advocates put their facts on the table. Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms, but it’s not unlimited. Americans aren’t allowed to have machine guns, for example.

Statistics show America is a violent nation, particularly in comparison with its counterparts like Great Britain and Canada. Presumably that has some relation to the easy availability of guns. Would stricter registration laws and limits on the sale of weapons keep guns out of the hands of those who are inclined to use them for murder and mayhem?

Critics of gun control contend that criminals will obtain guns no matter what legal obstacles are put in the way. Even if there is a measure of truth in that assertion, should that simply put an end to the discussion of solutions to gun violence?

Twelve people died and 50 were wounded during the massacre in Aurora. Of course, that terrible event doesn’t define America. It was seemingly the act of a lone deranged man. But that doesn’t make it any more appropriate to avoid the issue of gun violence that this event has so tragically raised.

Refusing to examine gun control because it is controversial and not advantageous politically can only be viewed as act of cowardice.

Our nation’s leaders have a duty to consider solutions to gun violence in the wake of the terrible loss in Aurora.