How does our national political establishment address the needs of a shocked and grieving country after remaining largely silent in the state and local battles raging over gun control?
Speaking on behalf of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the coalition he co-founded, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday suggested some fast, practical ways for a previously gun-shy political class -- he included President Barack Obama in that group -- to atone.
Congress should outlaw superlethal, military-style assault rifles like the one Adam Lanza used to mow down 20 first-graders and seven others last week in Newtown, Conn., Bloomberg said. This is the most popular rifle in the country.
Congress also must tighten background checks for gun ownership, Bloomberg said. An astonishing 40 percent of all gun sales are not subject to federal checks. Private sellers who often do business online or at gun shows can avoid conducting any background scrutiny at all. This is a giant loophole that gives felons, the mentally ill and drug addicts among others access to firearms.
Meanwhile, why not make gun trafficking a felony, as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has proposed?
These are just a few ways the United States could quickly address its toll of 12,400 gun deaths a year. And politically speaking, the timing seems right.
A reporter asked Bloomberg what standing he had on the issue. "I'm an American!" he answered. "This is an outrage." We're the only industrialized country with such lax laws.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also saying that the time has come to examine mass shootings and figure out how to prevent them.
This much we already know: Even with a fast-building mandate, the recommendations Bloomberg made yesterday are not a complete answer. He knows that. Congress knows that. They're simply a start.
The really difficult questions will come when we try to untangle our dysfunctional firearms policies from our dysfunctional mental health system. How do we find more effective ways to treat the mentally ill? If you look at the streets of any American city, you'll know we haven't found a useful or humane answer yet.
Beyond that, when do we deny such people the right to bear arms?
The answers will require an uncommon measure of legal wisdom, human empathy, common sense, street savvy, and a determination to stand up to some indefatigable interest groups.
Over the last five or six decades, we have wrestled with these issues sporadically and settled for a standoff each time.
The human enactment of these repeated failures was played out in the most horrific terms imaginable on a bright Friday morning last week. We cannot let this happen again.