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It's time to fight for restrictions on assault weapons

Gun control advocates should be prepared for a long battle

Dan Rodricks

6:05 PM EST, December 17, 2012

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Let's be honest about this: Those of us who believe there are too many guns — and too many military-style guns that should not even be manufactured for, much less sold to, the civilian market — have taken a walk on gun regulation. We conceded victory to the gun lobby years ago and, much like those who represent us in state legislatures and Congress, we have not returned to the debate — not even after Tucson and Aurora.

I am among the retired advocates for sane gun laws. I go back three decades on it.

Several times over the last few years, I wrote columns conceding victory to the National Rifle Association as it won all of its important political battles for all kinds of firearms, including assault rifles. It has consistently defeated even modest efforts at gun regulation.

I warned all gun zealots that I was done with the argument, that they should enjoy the fruits of their victories. I had moved on to other subjects.

Even then, they'd call or write emails to press their point about the constitutional right to own assault rifles.

Believe me, I heard all the arguments — frequently presented in overheated prose and angry phone calls — and grew tired of them.

So, after all kinds of gun events, from a massacre in Colorado to the controversial shooting of apetdog in suburban Maryland, I expressed the grim view that gun violence could be expected everywhere. It had been on the streets of Baltimore for years. It had become part of the nation's new normal.

With almost as many guns as people, and with so many spineless political leaders who break into sweats at the mention of the NRA, I simply acknowledged reality: Expect more violent acts of all scales and varieties, from drug-related street shootings to mass killings.

It was my dystopian view, a sign of America in decay.

In the last few years, two important Supreme Court decisions opened the door even further for more guns in more places, in the hands of more people.

"It is clear," Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said, "that the framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty."

Our "system of ordered liberty" includes a Bushmaster semiautomatic carbine in the hands of pretty much anyone who wants one.

That's the weapon used by the young gunman in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre — an event so utterly horrible that even cynics are tempted to believe that the nation might have finally reached a tipping point that seemed, only last week, beyond imagining.

We have failed to protect our children, as the president said in Newtown on Sunday night.

We have failed in our responsibilities as rational, ethical and creative human beings. We have allowed the gun zealots to take over. We have allowed tools of violence never imagined by the framers of the Constitution to proliferate, beyond all reason. And we have allowed deadly behavior to be repeated, over and over again, condemning but doing little about the cycle of violence.

So now we look into the little faces of Newtown and say enough is enough.

I know: It's not the gun; it's the disturbed young man who killed those children and the women who tried to protect them. We should train K-12 teachers in handling a Glock.

But I'm done listening to that stuff.

The Bushmaster made the massacre possible, just as other high-capacity guns made other massacres possible.

A civilized country wouldn't even allow the Bushmaster and other guns like it to be manufactured, except for military use. No hunter or marksman needs this type of firearm.

So, as you can tell, I am back in the fight.

All of us — those who have felt this way for a long time, the jaded adults who conceded defeat to the NRA — need to get active again. And I don't mean posting on Facebook. I mean taking real action.

Andrew Cohen, contributing editor of The Atlantic, is right: "Our nation's inability to protect our school children from gun violence is not just a basic failure of law and government. It's a personal failure on the part of every adult — and especially every parent — in America."

So this is what we do:

•We support assault-weapons bans, and bans on ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

••We write to the people who represent us in Congress. If they already support sane gun laws, then we write to those who don't or who are on the fence.

•We support the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

•We write to major retailers, starting with Walmart, the world's largest, and implore them to stop selling anything other than classic hunting rifles and shotguns. Tell them you will not shop in their stores otherwise.

•We refuse to support filmmakers and gamemakers who market violence to teenage boys.

•We brace ourselves for a sustained fight. This is going to take a while. Let's get busy.

drodricks@baltsun.com