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The Telegram
  • Editorial: Looking for a tipping point

  • Are we nearing a tipping point on gun regulation? Has the massacre of first-graders in Connecticut galvanized public opinion in a way that the previous string of mass murders hasn’t? Are Congress members at last ready to cast off the shackles of the National Rifle Association and enact even modest restrictions to mak...
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  • Are we nearing a tipping point on gun regulation? Has the massacre of first-graders in Connecticut galvanized public opinion in a way that the previous string of mass murders hasn’t? Are Congress members at last ready to cast off the shackles of the National Rifle Association and enact even modest restrictions to make Americans a little safer from military-style weapons in the hands of mentally unbalanced civilians?
    We won’t bet on it. Democrats who have, up until recently, voiced their support for new laws only in whispers – President Barack Obama included – have begun speaking up. Some conservative gun rights supporters, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, and ex-GOP congressman Joe Scarborough, are showing a change of heart.
    But the House is another story. If the wounding of one of their own, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, at the hands of a deranged young man didn’t arouse Congress members to stand up to NRA absolutism, will this?  And while the NRA has turned suddenly silent, refusing to defend its support for easy access for all kinds of weaponry, it hasn’t gone out of business.  Meanwhile, the NRA’s backers in the firearms industry can expect all this gun-control talk to boost their pre-holiday sales.
    We’ll see next year if the tide has turned in Congress. We’d like to see them prohibit the sale of 30-round magazines, like those used in Newtown. Maybe they’ll close the gun-show loophole, through which thousands of guns change hands every year without the background checks required in other legal sales. There will be an attempt to reinstate the ban on assault-type weapons, which expired in 2004.
    One of those weapons, the AR-15, modeled after the rifles used by the U.S. military, has been described as America’s most popular firearm, with estimated 3.5 million in circulation. It was the weapon used by the killer in Newtown last Friday, at an Oregon mall the previous Tuesday and in a Colorado movie theater last summer.
    Would these changes make us safer? It’s easy to doubt it. There will still be plenty of guns in easy grasp of those crazy enough to turn them on innocents. There will still be plenty of disturbed young men. America’s popular culture is still steeped in violence.
    But an example from the other side of the world offers hope.  After 35 people were killed in a 1996 massacre in Australia, a government led by a Conservative prime minister pushed through a series of gun control measures, including a buy-back program that took 650,000 weapons out of private hands. Since then, according to a Harvard study, Australia’s firearms homicide rate has fallen 57 percent, its firearms suicide rate has fallen by 65 percent – and there have no firearms massacres.
    No one sees a tipping point until it’s passed. Maybe this is the time America’s horror over the misuse of guns will force its leaders to do something to stem the carnage.

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