President Barack Obama seized the moment yesterday and named Vice President Joe Biden to head an interagency effort that will swiftly put a strong set of gun control proposals before Congress. As funerals continue for the 20 first-graders and seven adults killed in last week's Connecticut massacre, Obama seems in no mood for excuses. And 52 percent of Americans now favor major restrictions on guns, according to a CNN poll released Wednesday.
The president is finally willing to take on the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress directly, while the nation's attention is riveted on Sandy Hook Elementary School and the horror that unfolded there last week.
His instincts are correct on all counts.
This not the time to start studies, question experts and collect new reams of data on violence, American society and the law. We've filled libraries with this kind of information over decades, and while it does have a place in a broader discussion, it's not what we need right now.
So many of the issues before us today are so urgent, with solutions so obvious, we simply need to get them in place without further delay.
"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse," Obama said Wednesday. "The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean that we can't steadily reduce the violence and prevent the very worst violence."
Job No. 1 is to establish some basic safeguards for a society in which firearms and ammunition have become more powerful than ever and more pervasive than ever.
What kind of safeguards?
The president offered his own to-do list yesterday.
Ban sales of military-style assault weapons.
Ban sales of super-high- capacity ammunition clips.
Do background checks as a prerequisite to all firearms purchases -- no matter if they take place at a gun show or in someone's living room or in a sporting goods store.
Obama also called for the confirmation of a director for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, an agency that has gone without a confirmed leader for six years. The standoff is an apt symbol for Washington's gun-control fecklessness.
The bureau works closely with state and local authorities on the ground to restrict gun trafficking and to keep illegal weapons out of the hands of criminals. And yet Congress and the White House haven't been able to agree on a director since the days of the George W. Bush administration. Think this would happen to the FBI? Or the CIA? The Washington Post said in a report this week that the firearms industry dominates the agency.
Let us be blunt: Until 9:30 last Friday morning -- when 20 school children and six brave educators were murdered by a deranged young man with a formidable arsenal -- this was an issue that most in official Washington preferred to avoid. The Obama administration thought the gun-control cause hopeless. Republicans hoped it was.
They should feel ashamed. But they should also know that they have a way to redeem themselves. Yesterday, Obama showed them a start. It now falls to Biden and his group to work fast and well, and it falls to Congress to help them. We need tighter laws, and we need them now.