Cheryl Girardi, of Middletown, Conn., kneels beside 26 teddy bears,...

Cheryl Girardi, of Middletown, Conn., kneels beside 26 teddy bears, each representing a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, at a sidewalk memorial in Newtown, Conn. (Dec. 16, 2012) Credit: AP

With the heartbreaking memory of 20 innocents slaughtered in their elementary school still fresh, it's stunning that Congress may actually do nothing meaningful to reduce gun violence.

That unthinkable possibility became probable Tuesday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that an assault-weapons ban and 10-shell limit for ammunition clips won't be in the bill the Senate will take up next month. The votes aren't there from either party to pass them and Reid said lashing them to more popular measures in a single bill could doom the entire lot. That calculation may be on the mark, and that's tragic. The measures should definitely be offered as amendments.

Even worse, a bill requiring background checks for private gun sales may not make the cut either. The Senate Judiciary Committee's Democratic majority approved it recently on a party-line vote. If it doesn't win some Republican support in the full Senate, it too will be doomed. Those checks, coupled with stiffer penalties for gun trafficking, are the key reforms needed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, dangerous mentally ill people and others who can't legally buy them.

Without those measures, all that would be left are grants for school security and increased penalties for gun traffickers and "straw buyers" -- people who buy firearms legally and then pass them along to others who couldn't legally buy them. Trafficking should be a federal felony. But without universal background checks, the stiffer penalties would be meaningless. About 4 in 10 guns sales take place online or at gun shows, where background checks are currently not required. If that loophole isn't closed, illegal purchasers won't need straw buyers or illegal traffickers to get guns.

So there is a distinct possibility that federal grants for school security could be the only real reform to pass the Senate. That would be a shamefully weak response to a deadly problem.

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