If anyone had doubts that President Obama would have the political courage to propose a genuinely strong package of gun control measures in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings — and, frankly, we did — he laid them to rest Wednesday. His proposals would fulfill the fondest wishes of anti-gun activists and organizations that have been advocating for decades for many of the same policies.
Now the only problem is getting Obama's common-sense proposals past Congress — which is a bit like saying that the only thing preventing this pig from flying is getting it to grow wings.
The president announced 23 actions his administration will perform without congressional help, most of which are cosmetic. He will, for example, launch a national campaign promoting responsible gun ownership and provide incentives for a relative handful of schools to hire specially trained police officers. Some of Obama's other actions will be more effective than that, notably his order to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence. The CDC has been reluctant to study the impact of guns for years because of a congressional prohibition on using funds to "advocate or promote gun control."
The really significant changes, though, would require congressional approval. Obama and his panel of advisors have steered clear of some of the more controversial questions, such as who can carry concealed weapons or whether Congress was right to allow people to take guns to national parks or on Amtrak trains. But he did address one of the most glaring shortcomings in federal efforts to prevent dangerous people from obtaining guns: loopholes, state-level intransigence and other problems with the national background-check system for gun purchasers. If Congress takes up Obama's challenge to deal with these problems, it could in a stroke not only lessen the risk of another Newtown but also reduce the thousands of less-publicized gun deaths in the U.S. annually — all without doing a thing to prevent law-abiding, mentally stable people from buying guns.
Other smart proposals from Obama include limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, which would at least slow down mass killers, and reinstating (and strengthening) the federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. Will Congress go for any of this? We're not ready to glue feathers on a pig, but a nation appalled by senseless tragedies such as Newtown is imposing new pressures on lawmakers that might, someday, overcome even the power of the mighty gun lobby. We're glad to see Obama pushing that day closer.