As Eliza Doolittle put it in "My Fair Lady": "Words, words words, I'm so sick of words!" Once again, in the wake of the latest shooting spree in Colorado, presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ran a race to the microphones to deplore it, with more words of sympathy than promises or plans to do anything about it.

Mr. Obama, who hops aboard Air Force One at the drop of a megabucks fund-raiser these days, jetted out to Colorado to commiserate with the families of the victims. Mr. Romney, meanwhile, took a brief breather from his dedicated effort to bounce the president from the Oval Office.


All the usual deplorings were heard of a demented individual spraying innocent citizens with bullets from rapid-firing weapons designed for war, or at least for the criminal underworld. So were the usual bleatings of the don't-let-them-take-my-guns-away crowd.

Now that the Supreme Court has spoken on the constitutionality of the Second Amendment's right to bear arms, you'd think the gun enthusiasts would lighten up a bit, but no. They now try to justify their opposition to the effort to ban assault weapons, a small bit of sanity now scratched from the books.

Mr. Obama in his visit to the stricken families in Aurora wore his compassion on his sleeve, saying he spoke not as president but as "a father and a husband" who had a chance "to give folks some hugs and to shed a few tears." All he had to say about any remedy to the tragedy was that he hoped "we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that end up marring this country."

He left it to press secretary Jay Carney to explain, amid all the hand wringing, that his boss was, first of all, concerned about protecting the right to bear arms. "He thinks we need to take steps that protect the Second Amendment rights of the American people but that insure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing laws, have them."

When a reporter explicitly asked about Mr. Obama's view on restoring the assault weapons ban, enacted in 1994 but dropped in 2004, Mr. Carney cited the opposition in Congress to doing so. He repeated: "So the president is focused on doing the things we can do that protect Second Amendment rights, which he thinks is important, but also make it harder for individuals who should not, under existing law, have weapons to obtain them."

Fortunately, Mr. Obama didn't serve up that formulation in his Aurora speech to the victim's families, who probably were not thinking about Second Amendment rights at that moment. The issue now, obviously, is not simply the right to bear arms as stated in the Constitution, but the easy access to assault weapons that spread the mayhem that has so recently afflicted places like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson and now Aurora.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg had it right on Sunday's CBS news show "Face the Nation," observing: "This requires, and particularly in a presidential [election] year, the candidates for president of the United States to stand up and once and for all say, 'Yes, they feel terrible. Yes, we have great sympathy for the families. But it's time for this country to do something, and that is the job of the President of the United States.' "

Mr. Carney referred reporters to the Department of Justice, saying it "can provide more details in terms of some of the steps that we've taken involving making higher quantity and quality information available in background checks they've taken." So much, apparently, for any forthright statement from Mr. Obama on an administration drive to reinstate the assault-weapons ban, still championed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

The reason, obviously, is continued fear of the gun lobby led by the National Rifle Association, which throws millions of dollars against any member of Congress, or presidential nominee, who dares support the ban. Maybe Joe Biden should do so, and again force President Obama to do the right thing, as he did on backing same-sex marriage.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.