13 Dead in New York

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A MAN BARRICADED the back entrance of a New York state immigration services center yesterday, walked through the front door into the midst of a citizenship class and murdered 13 people. He critically wounded four others before turning a weapon on himself. Just a few weeks ago, a gunman in Alabama shot and killed 10 people, including several members of his own family, and wounded six others before taking his own life. Another man late last month gunned down a nurse and seven elderly people, while injuring at least three others, in a North Carolina nursing home.

Just in these three recent episodes, 31 people died and the lives of many others were traumatically altered forever by gun violence. No one may ever fully understand what kind of fury or demon gripped the gunmen. Yet too often in this country, guns amplify the damage that can be done.

President Obama, traveling overseas yesterday, expressed shock and sadness at the latest crimes. In New York, Vice President Biden declared, "We've got to figure out a way to deal with this terrible, terrible violence." Appropriate sentiments, to be sure, but exactly the kind of routine words of condolence and concern offered after every tragedy of this kind. What is needed is action and the promulgation of sensible gun laws -- from strict registration requirements to cooling-off periods before purchases are permitted, to a resurrection of the federal ban on assault weapons.

Gun rights advocates like to remind us that "guns don't kill people; people kill people." That may be true, and we don't know what effect sensible laws might have had on these specific cases. But we know that such laws, consistent with the Second Amendment, could save lives. Those intent on killing others or too disturbed to stop such impulses would do far less harm without the aid of sidearms or assault rifles.

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