The elementary school shooting in Newton, Conn., produced a strong public reaction.
The deaths of 27 people, including small children, will have that effect.
The tragedy has prompted the Obama administration to push for new restrictions to ban so-called assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips.
But the effort is expected to face tough opposition in Congress, and perhaps for good reason. In many ways, it's a half-hearted measure that may appeal to gun control advocates, but likely wouldn't do much about violence in America.
In reviewing what happened in Newton and similar mass shootings in the past, it's worth making a few points clear.
First, the people involved in these attacks are emotionally or mentally disturbed. These are not rational acts that can be prevented with tougher punishment or unenforceable measures.
Second, assault weapons cause a fraction of the shooting deaths in America. A handful of incidents generate considerable attention. Yet over the course of time, individual shootings take a far higher toll with little public response.
It seems America has become numb to these types of killings.
But if the goal is to thwart unbalanced individuals with access to high-capacity weapons, it's not clear if President Obama has outlined a course of action that will help. Our concern is that instead of a broad-based effort to prevent these killings, the president has set the stage for another one of those Washington sideshows that produces considerable heat, but no light.
Granted, Obama used his executive authority to direct the Centers for Disease Control to conduct additional research on gun violence. But whether that comes close to tackling the issues of what causes disturbed individuals to precipitate mass shootings is far from clear.
We think a case could be made to impose additional restrictions on certain types of weapons. America already limits general access to fully automatic weapons, bazookas and other military-type arms. Where the line is drawn in terms of what is — and is not — permissible is open for discussion.
But gun restrictions ought not to be hollow, feel-good measures. There should be some evidence they will enhance public safety without restricting legitimate use.
And they absolutely ought to be tied to a broader effort to identify and assist the mentally ill. Without that piece of the puzzle, these mass killings will persist.
New Castle, Pa., News