The Newtown Shooting Is a Teachable Moment

Are we smart enough to learn the lesson?

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The slaughter of the innocents in Newtown, Conn., has already had a profound impact on American society. The tragedy has moved both the public and politicians.

A new national survey by CBS News and The New York Times indicates that a clear majority (57 percent) of Americans want stricter gun control laws. The massacre in Newtown clearly had a big impact on public opinion.  Back in April only 39 percent of the people told the same pollsters that they favored tighter controls.

There is also movement in Congress towards stricter regulations. Monday two pro-gun Democratic senators, Mark Warner  of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said that they would reconsider their opposition to a ban on automatic weapons. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, said Monday that he would be open to a measure that would make it harder for people with a history of mental illness to buy assault rifles.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Newtown shooting.]

Automatic weapons got to go! Why does anyone but a soldier, police officer, or member of the National Guard or militia need an automatic weapon anyway?  Senator Manchin who has always been a staunch defender of the National Rifle Association said Monday on Morning Joe, "I don't know anyone in the hunting or sporting arena that goes out with an assault weapon." The host of Morning Joe former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough said that the slaughter in Newtown had forced him to end his opposition to gun control.

Barack Obama made a very moving speech about the need for tougher regulations when he spoke in Newtown Sunday night. But we're past pretty words and now we need action. The president may have problems with the iron grip that the National Rifle Association has on Congress but he can act by executive order alone. The president has the power to ban the importation of products that he believes are a threat to national security. And if an Uzi in the hands of a guy with emotional problems isn't a threat to our security then nothing is.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

You would like to think that everybody could agree on the need for more stringent background checks. In many states, the only question that a gun seller asks a gun buyer is "cash or charge."

Guns themselves are a big problem but there are also larger social questions to answer. Sunday Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat of New York, said that government needs to do a better job helping people with psychological problems. People with emotional or mental problems don't get the care they need and they are much more of a threat to society than people with physical problems. The president's political adviser, David Axelrod said that we have to come to grips with the use of very violent video games by children.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Did the Sandy Hook Shooting Prove the Need for More Gun Control?]

Parents need to be a lot more vigilant too. If you don't know that your child has a serious emotional problem, you're not paying enough attention. Parents need to do a lot more to keep their weapons secure. The shooter in Connecticut reportedly  got his weapons from his mother's collection. We invaded Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction that the country didn't even have. But here in the United States we don't do much to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the wrong hands.

This is a classic teachable moment in America. The question is whether we learn the lesson.

  • Read Susan Milligan: Daniel Inouye Knew the Senate Was Bigger Than He Was
  • Read Jamie Stiehm: Obama's Newtown Shooting Speech Was Best of His Presidency
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