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Vice President Joe Biden said he expects to deliver Tuesday a set of recommendations to President Obama based on the findings of the task force he leads and which has been examining ways of reducing mass killings like that witnessed in Newtown Dec. 14.
The report will arrive only three weeks after the president announced his appointment of the commission, which is not that surprising because some of the necessary steps are obvious, it is just that successive presidents and Congresses have lacked the political will to pursue them. So horrific was the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six educators were murdered, so nauseatingly routine have mass shootings become, that the public is finally demanding action.
President Obama recognizes the strong opposition that any effort to enact reasonable gun control faces in this society. It is led by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) and fueled by the fervent but constitutionally misinformed belief among many that the Second Amendment is so sacrosanct that it allows no restrictions on gun and ammunition ownership.
Proposals sifting out from the task force appear sensible and, if recent Supreme Court decisions are a dependable guide, would adhere to the Second Amendment.
This past week The Washington Post, citing multiple sources, said those proposals include universal background checks for gun buyers. The task force is expected to call for more stringent mental health checks on those seeking guns or having access to the guns. The Post reports the committee will call for tracking the movement and sale of weapons using a national database. Last week Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced his plans to introduce legislation requiring instant background checks for the sale of gun ammunition, which also makes sense.
In speaking to reporters last week, the vice president said the task force found much support for prohibiting the sale of high-capacity magazines, which allow a killer to fire dozens of bullets without reloading. We see no reason for civilians to have access to magazines that hold more than a dozen rounds.
All these ideas are so sensible that we would anticipate strong public support, with opposition coming only from the most irrational of gun advocates - and from the NRA.
Less clear is whether the task force and president will push to restore the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. They should. To have any meaning Congress would have to close the loopholes found in the prior law and greatly expand the definition of weapons capable of killing many people in a short time. The semiautomatic Bushmaster that Adam Lanza used at Sandy Hook was legal even under Connecticut's assault-weapons' ban, one of the strongest in the country.
None of these proposals would prohibit citizens from owning handguns for self-defense or rifles suitable for hunting.
We also urge President Obama to take this opportunity to strengthen the hand of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Republican and NRA antipathy toward the agency have blocked for six years the appointment of a permanent director, with five acting directors heading the agency over that time. It's time to put someone in charge. And Congress should repeal a 1986 law prohibiting ATF from making more than one unannounced visit to a gun dealer annually, a provision that allows unscrupulous dealers to know when the coast is clear.
Meanwhile, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy awaits the recommendations of his own Sandy Hook task force, expected to report in March. The timing may prove fortuitous. By then Connecticut may have a better idea how willing Congress is to step up and approve gun control at a federal level. As Gov. Malloy noted in his State of the State Address last week, "this conversation must take place nationally."
And this conversation must move forward.