WASHINGTON - As Congress prepares to go into full debate mode over gun control, daily shootings point up the tragedy of doing nothing to stop the insanity of firearms violence. But nothing since the Dec. 14 massacre of first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., is more unspeakable than what occurred Thursday in Georgia.
A young mother pushing her 13-month-old son in a stroller on the way back from the post office was accosted by two teenagers who demanded money. She had none, she explained, which prompted the older of the two to produce a gun and threaten to shoot the baby boy. She again explained that she had no money, that caring for her child took it all. She pleaded for him not to harm the boy.
According to police reports, the older assailant ignored her pleas and fired three shots: two at the woman, nicking an ear and wounding her leg. He then, the mother said, calmly walked to the stroller and fired a third shot into the child's face.
Two teens have been arrested and charged with murder after the mother quickly identified a 17-year-old from 24 photographs supplied by the police. The other suspect is said to be 14. The 17-year-old was charged as an adult, making him eligible for the severest penalty under Georgia law. An aunt contended he was eating breakfast with her at the time, though police counter that they have sufficient evidence to dispute the alibi.
All of this -- just another heinous crime committed by "people and not guns" except that it wouldn't have taken place without one -- is irrelevant. What is pertinent is what it says about a society where a teenager can easily find a weapon out of the estimated 300 million or so in circulation in this country and use it to deliberately murder an utterly defenseless baby boy on the street in broad daylight. The casualness of this crime is difficult for any civilized person to come to grips with.
Perhaps if the mother or the child himself had been "carrying," they could have stopped the tragedy.
That, of course, is the standard explanation one can expect to hear from the National Rifle Association and its rabid followers whose use of that rationalization to justify its policies after every gun massacre goes on with nauseating regularity.
Should we now believe that one is never too young to exercise Second Amendment rights? Let's arm the little children.
Another incident further demonstrates the lack of courage on the gun issue by federal lawmakers who put their own political survival over a coherent, sane policy toward firearms. Doing as usual the NRA's bidding, Republicans and some Democratic allies on this question have managed to deny Caitlin Halligan a seat on the prestigious District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals because she pursued a lawsuit against gun manufacturers while solicitor general for the State of New York. She is a "judicial activist" her opponents charged. Halligan asked that her nomination be withdrawn after the gun advocates blocked her Senate approval for two years.
So about the only good news for those determined to fight back on the eve of congressional debate is that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is bankrolling a $12 million advertising campaign to expand background checks for gun purchases and other initiatives launched by the White House. The 13-state campaign is targeted toward senators he believes can be persuaded to back new gun regulations. The billionaire mayor has long been among the fiercest of those willing to take on the firearms lobby.
All this adds up to a post Easter debate in which the horror brought on by unfettered gun rights will be replayed over and over on the floor of Congress and in the halls of a legislature often too frightened to act and whose only defense for subjecting us to the killing streets and mindless slaughter is that it is a constitutional right.
Meanwhile, the picture of the beautiful little Georgia boy shown on television should be placed on the desk of every lawmaker.
Dan K. Thomasson is the former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.