December 14, 2012
Families of victims grieve near Sandy Hook Elementary School
Adress Latif/Reuters

Twenty children and seven adults are dead in Newtown, Connecticut. This time, the cowardice, the fear, the evasion and the political convenience must end.

We have had enough. American politics is plagued by timidity and paralyzed by opportunism whenever we even consider talking action to curb gun violence. No other developed country in the world has these massacres on such a regular basis. In no comparable nation do citizens have such easy access to guns. On no public question other than gun violence are those who demand solutions after an ungodly episode accused of “politicizing tragedy.”

It is time to insist that such craven propaganda will no longer be taken seriously. If our political system does not act this time, we can deem it as totally bought and paid for by the representatives of gun manufacturers, gun dealers, and their very well-compensated lobbyists and mouthpieces. A former high Obama Administration official once made this comment to me: “If progressives are so worked up about how Washington is controlled by the banks and Wall Street, why aren’t they just as worked up by the power of the gun lobby?” It is a good question.

There was a different quality to President Obama’s response to this mass shooting, and I think I know why. It is not just that 20 children were killed, although that would be enough. And it is not just that since he became president, our nation has gone through one gun tragedy after another – and done nothing.

There have been rumblings out of the administration that the president has been unhappy with his legislatively passive response to the earlier mass shootings and was prepared in his second term to propose tough, practical steps that might make such killings less likely. His statement pointed to this exasperation. Here is the key passage:

“As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

“Regardless of politics.” That is what it will take. A president who no longer has to run for election is in a good position to say this, but he and the rest of us must change the politics of guns for those who will face the voters again. We cannot just be sad. We must be angry. We cannot just shake our heads. We must shake our fists, and wield our votes. We cannot just say that curbing gun violence is one issue among many. It is a paramount concern for our country.

And we will have to avoid the paralysis created by those who insists that every mass shooting is the work of one deranged individual and never, ever the result of flawed policies. We must beware of those who invoke complexity not to further understanding, but to encourage passivity and resignation. Of course every social problem is complex. Every act of violence has complicated roots, both personal and social.

But we already know that it is far too easy to obtain guns in America. We already know that it is far too difficult to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. And we already know that weapons are available that should not even be sold. We must act now to curb gun violence, or we never will.

E.J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column and on the PostPartisan blog. He is also a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, a government professor at Georgetown University and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio, ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”