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Editorial: Act now to reduce gun bloodshed

In the wake of the Colorado theater massacre,

In the wake of the Colorado theater massacre, it's disturbing to think that colleges even need "threat assessment teams." Many were created after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Credit: M. Ryder / Tribune Media Services

The shock of 12 lives snuffed out by a heavily armed gunman in a movie theater has reignited our national debate about the easy availability of guns and ammunition. Instead of more talk, however, this time there should be action. The nation needs to move forward with commonsense gun regulation, as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pressed Washington to do. The willful impotence of the White House and Congress in the face of so much death and suffering is shameful.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney each comforted the nation in the wake of the most recent massacre. But neither uttered a word of support for effective gun control, even though Obama supported an assault weapons ban before he was elected and then-Gov. Romney actually signed one into law in Massachusetts.

Congress has also been missing in action. No doubt some members genuinely believe any restriction of gun ownership undermines freedom. But others have been swayed to oppose regulation by the money and influence of the gun lobby led by the National Rifle Association. And others who support reasonable gun control have been beaten into submission by the inability to move Congress or the country on the issue. Neither Washington, nor the citizenry, should give up on this lethal problem.

Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 left no doubt about that, but it did allow for reasonable rules and regulations.

Nothing Congress can do will make us immune to the homicidal impulses of madmen. The sad truth is that about 12,000 homicides are committed with firearms each year in this country. That's 32 on average every day -- almost three times the number who died in that theater in Aurora, Colo. A number of reasonable measures to reduce the carnage have been introduced in Congress in recent years -- introduced and ignored.

"Our politicians need to get a spine," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), whose husband was murdered and her son seriously injured when a deranged gunman opened fire on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993, killing six riders and wounding 19.

The assault weapons ban was allowed to lapse in 2004. It should be reimposed. At the very least, high-capacity ammunition magazines that enable a gunman to fire more than 10 rounds without reloading should be banned. Colorado suspect James Holmes had a 100-round clip in an assault rifle that, fortunately, jammed. Limiting firepower could reduce the horrible body counts in these tragedies.

There should be a reporting requirement when an individual buys 6,000 rounds of ammunition in person or over the Internet, as Holmes did.

To ensure that gun purchases are legal, Congress should close the gun-show loophole that allows four in 10 firearms sold in the country to change hands without a background check. And it's ludicrous that someone on a terrorism watch list who is barred from flying on commercial aircraft can legally buy firearms.

It's not enough to lament the bloodshed plaguing the country. We must do what we can to stem it.