Fight to win: Americans must rally behind the president on guns

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For his second term, President Barack Obama has picked a fight with one of the biggest schoolyard bullies in the country -- the National Rifle Association. Americans need to let Congress know that they are on the president's side, no matter whether they voted for him or not. There have been too many funerals to do otherwise.

Mr. Obama wasn't up for this fight. He had done next to nothing about gun violence in his first term and he did not campaign on the issue for re-election. But the massacre of 20 children in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., before Christmas moved the president, just as it broke the hearts of the American people, at least those prepared to think as they cried.

The old political assumptions were suddenly put on the defensive. Now it is the rarest of moments, a national leader standing up to break the NRA's stranglehold on Congress and legislatures large and small around the country. Now a majority of the public, at least as measured by opinion polls, is suddenly saying that something must be done at last about unlimited guns available to those of limited sanity.

The effort to do what is reasonable and right may yet be lost -- beaten down by the usual excuses and false pieties concerning the Second Amendment. Despite what the critics will say, the president is not taking away the right of Americans to possess firearms. He has targeted assault rifles and large magazines that nobody has a constitutional right to own. These weapons are in the same general class as machine guns, which are banned without any plausible suggestion that they shouldn't be under the Constitution.

The list of legislative proposals and executive orders announced by Mr. Obama on Wednesday are the stuff of common sense, not a threat to liberty. Certainly, the assault weapon ban that was in force for a decade before the NRA's minions saw to its expiration should be reinstituted and refined -- and supplemented by a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines. Troops need such equipment. Ordinary citizens, possessing firearms for self-defense or hunting, do not.

Universal background checks for gun buyers are likewise essential -- no more gun show loopholes that mock the effort. And while armed guards in schools would not be our preferred remedy, Mr. Obama has left that to individual school districts to decide.

There's not much here that reasonable people could object to, but the fanatical NRA and its supporters will. The American people need to tell them they are wrong and tell their members of Congress to stiffen their spines. Enough is enough.

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