It used to be that Social Security was the third rail of American politics. Touch it and an elected official risked electrocution. Now that issue is guns.
It is astonishing that in the wake of yet another mass murder by firearms, neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney will commit to any new legislation to try to curb gun violence.
The president said this week that though he supports a ban on the sale of assault weapons, "There are things we can do short of legislation and short of gun laws that can reduce violence in our society." The previous assault-weapons ban expired in 2004. The president's comments were a clear signal that he would not make an issue of new gun laws during the presidential campaign. That sentiment was seconded by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Romney said that new laws would not prevent people from carrying out "terrible acts." He cited the example of Timothy McVeigh, the man convicted and executed for the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people. Romney pointed out that that crime was carried out using fertilizer that can be legally purchased anywhere in the world.
"Somehow thinking that laws against the instruments of violence will make violence go away, I think is misguided."
Both candidates' comments are a craven reflection of their fear of the political power of the National Rifle Association. And fear is what the gun debate is really all about.
After the Aurora massacre, gun sales spiked across the nation, including in Utah. People fear another massacre, which is tantamount to an admission that everyone knows that guns and high-capacity ammunition magazines are readily available to anyone. Yet the reaction to this news is for more people to buy guns in the misguided belief that if they themselves are armed when a melee breaks out, they will be able to protect themselves.
Other people fear that the Aurora massacre could actually prompt politicians to take a stand against the legal sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. So, they rush to the gun stores.
It makes you wonder what has happened to American society to make people so afraid.
However, fear should not be allowed to cloud judgment. A person bent on committing mayhem can do more damage with high-capacity, rapid-fire weapons built for combat than he could do otherwise. Restricting the sales of such weapons can and should be accomplished without jeopardizing the right to bear arms for self-defense.