US must renew ban on private ownership of assault weapons
Anywhere else, the shooting massacre of 20 small schoolchildren would give unstoppable momentum to a campaign to tighten laws on the possession of guns. In the US, it will run into a powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association. Of the tens of thousands of registered lobbyists in America, many elected politicians fear getting offside with the NRA the most. Testament to that is the defeat of previous attempts sparked by civilian shooting atrocities to regulate the constitutional right to bear arms. As a result Americans have accumulated an estimated 300 million guns, not far short of the country's population, and the number is rising by about 4 million weapons a year.
Now the gun lobby is plotting to head off another attempt, no doubt under its usual banner "people kill people", not guns. Hopefully, after the unbearable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the truth that people with guns kill people will prevail, the gun lobby will be forced onto the back foot, and Americans who believe in the right to bear arms with deep conviction will see the need to strike a balance. But history does not hold out much hope.
Joining the vigil for the victims, President Barack Obama promised to use whatever powers his mighty office has to try to prevent similar tragedies. "We must change", he said. The complex causes of gun crime "can't be an excuse for inaction".
It is less than six months since the massacre of 12 moviegoers with a military assault weapon - not a hunting weapon - in Colorado. Then, as now, Obama eloquently articulated the nation's horror and sympathy. But with re-election at stake, he did nothing to renew a ban on private ownership of assault rifles, which was allowed to lapse under NRA pressure in 2004. Officials say the gunman used a semi-automatic rifle as his main weapon in the Newtown massacre.
Again Obama has found the right words, and again it is not enough. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, rightly says the country needs him to show leadership and send a gun-control bill to congress.
Sadly, the political realities mean the US will never have stringent gun laws. But there should at least be controls on assault weapons, online sales and high-capacity ammunition magazines. That would be a start on striking a balance. Anything less now would be unworthy of the memory of 20 children and the teachers who died trying to save them.