What a tragedy that it required the deaths of 32 people in Blacksburg, Va., to persuade the National Rifle Association and others of a similar mindset to endorse some reasonable restrictions on firearms ownership. But that's essentially what happened, and the results speak for themselves. The bill signed this week by President Bush is most notable simply for being a broadly supported form of gun control, a topic that's been left off the nation's agenda for nearly a decade.
The new law will strengthen the 10-year-old background check system so that states are more likely to have the necessary information to keep dangerously mentally ill people from buying a gun. It's a modest step, to be sure, but the bill had been languishing in Congress since 2002.
What happened at Virginia Tech last April changed the nation's perspective, and suddenly it seemed reasonable to talk about beefing up background checks. Lo and behold, the NRA and gun control advocates could agree on something.
If this sort of common-sense proposal - keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people - can pass muster, why not repair some other glaring problems in existing law? Surely, terrorists and convicted criminals are two other groups that society ought to think twice about arming. And yet the gun show loophole continues to allow gun sales without any background check at all.
The failure to renew the federal ban on military-style, semiautomatic assault weapons four years ago is another matter that needs to be corrected. The ban never restricted ordinary hunting rifles or shotguns. But it seems foolish to make devices as potentially lethal as assault weapons so readily available to whoever wants one.
Gun violence is an epidemic in this country, as Baltimore residents know all too well. It isn't a problem that will be solved wholly by gun control, but some restrictions can be helpful - as Congress and the White House obviously believe. Let this week's actions be viewed as not only a testament to those who died in Blacksburg but also the beginning of a more reasoned approach to guns.