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Editorial: Look for consensus on gun control

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President and CEO

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks in Washington. Credit: AP, 2011

If Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association is true to form tomorrow when testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will voice his strong opposition to tighter gun-control laws in sharp bursts of sound and fury.

Nothing wrong with that. Americans on both sides of the issue have impassioned views and a basic right to express them. But we do need to find common ground.

Saturday's march on Washington for gun control, for example, featured a demonstrator with a sign sure to raise the hackles of every true blue NRA member: "Repeal the 2nd Amendment."

The two sides shouldn't just taunt each other forever.

In the wake of Sandy Hook, it now falls to Congress to wade into the street fight, toss out the issues that only polarize, and put together a consensus for action.

President Barack Obama took the first step recently in an interview with the New Republic magazine.

The rights of hunters and other gun owners should be respected, Obama said, even as new gun-control laws are enacted. And he promised that bridging the cultural chasm in attitudes about gun ownership would be a key part of his efforts to reduce gun violence.

That's smart politics and wise policy, and a long way from his ill-advised 2008 statement about Americans clinging "to guns or religion" because they've been beaten down by a bad economy.

"If you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were 10," Obama told the magazine, "and you went out and spent the day with him and your uncles, and that became part of your family's traditions, you can see why you'd be pretty protective of that."

Those words won't win over the NRA hardliners.

But they might persuade more sensible gun owners to embrace the president's plan calling for broader background checks, limits on ammunition magazines and a ban on assault weapons.

Gun-control backers must never forget that places like Long Island and New York City have one set of issues -- say, with illegal handguns from out of state -- while states like Montana basically want to ensure that the right to carry guns in the wild is protected. In a political fight like this, the side that takes the middle wins the war.