Vice President Joe Biden hasn't yet issued his report. The Earth scattered on Newtown's graves has barely settled. But it seems just about everyone in Washington -- the press, politicians, perhaps the president -- already is backpedaling on a serious attempt to ban assault rifles.
"Weapons ban doomed in Congress, NRA says," reads a headline in my morning Boston Globe.
The New York Times seems to suggest the president and Democrats are ducking a fight even before it begins. It writes:
The most contentious initiatives, like reviving a ban on assault weapons, would require Congressional approval and have drawn fierce opposition from gun rights groups and Republican lawmakers, making passage a long shot...
In the face of those difficulties, the White House has said it is looking for actions it can take without Congressional approval. Increasing the number of prosecutions for lying on background-check forms is an effort that the administration can undertake largely on its own...
Excuse me? Background-check prosecutions are good. So is a wide-ranging plan that looks at everything from better mental health care to restrictions on the types of ammunition that can be sold. But it's the guns, people. It's the guns.
Some 300 million are owned by U.S. civilians, nearly one per person -- and that was before the post-Newtown, black-Friday-like rush on gun stores. (Its logic is mimicked by the humor mag, the Onion, in an article titled, "Gorilla sales skyrocket after latest gorilla attack.")
Assault rifles are the worst. They replicate weapons used in modern warfare. They're designed to kill -- not mice in your attic, not deer in the field, not even a damned buffalo that wanders in from the plains. They're designed to kill people -- fast, furiously, effectively. And with a growing crowd of certifiable extremists in this country, they're likely to be used more frequently, too, unless taken off the gun store shelves.
Don't believe me? Then read Charles Blow of the New York Times. He references this video by Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano, who says, "Here's the dirty little secret about the Second Amendment, the Second Amendment was not written in order to protect your right to shoot deer, it was written to protect your right to shoot tyrants if they take over the government. How about chewing on that one."
And while you're chewing, consider just what "tyrants" he might be referring to (please note that a collection of conservative groups has declared Jan. 19, two days before the inauguration, as "Gun Appreciation Day").
Nervous yet? You should be. Blow also references a 2012 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that notes the number of "so-called patriot groups" have grown from 149 to 1,274 in the four years of President Obama's presidency.
Some people who have stood up to the gun lobby have paid an immediate price. When the Journal News in Rockland County, N.Y., took the admittedly dubious step of printing the names and addresses of handgun permit owners in its readership area, it received so many threats, including notes to reporters saying they'd be shot on the way to their cars, that it hired armed guards, the Times reported.
Intimidation, of course, may be overkill, given what lobbying money can accomplish. But if our do-nothing Congress already is showing signs of waffling, some are standing tall. I'm proud of my college's president, Lee Pelton, who sent President Obama a letter, signed by 255 college presidents who pledged to support "a long overdue national conversation about mass killings and gun violence."
It continued, "We ask that urgent attention be paid to developing measures that would have the effect of curtailing easy access to assault weapons, especially guns that can hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition without reloading and have no place in the hands of civilians."
I'm proud of leaders like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has moved quickly to pass the most restrictive ban on assault weapons in the country, the Times reports.
I'd like to be proud of President Obama, too.
But Washington, I suspect, will not be moved by words or reason alone. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday and life we will celebrate this week, understood well the importance of non-violent protest in the face of sometimes violent oppression. What better time than now to heed his teachings and make plans to fill the lawns of the National Mall in Washington with a "Million Parent March?" What better time than now to ignore the handicapping of insular and insulated politicians and pundits alike? What better time than now to truly pressure Congress to take away those guns -- assault rifles -- that no self-respecting sportsman would be seen carrying in the first place.
The mass killings need to stop, before they get even worse.