This is a country that has a history of facing tragedy and becoming better for it. It is a country that recoiled in horror at the Triangle shirtwaist factory and took steps to protect the lives of factory workers. It is a country able to rethink deeply seated beliefs — as it did with discrimination against blacks and women and is now doing with antigay discrimination.
Americans are ready to shoulder burdens — as we did after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by accepting increased security when we travel and military actions we might previously have avoided. The current atmosphere in Washington — where lawmakers looked at the challenge of a struggling economy and dissolved into partisan bickering — is not the old normal, and there is no reason we should settle for it as the new normal.
So we have found real reason to find hope in the determination to effect change that followed the murders of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., last Friday. President Obama said it unequivocally on Sunday — the enormity of controlling the culture of guns and the epidemic of gun violence “can’t be an excuse for inaction.”
Yes, Mr. Obama has said that before, after two previous mass killings during his tenure, and did nothing. The hurdles are just as big as they were before, but there are signs that people are willing to rethink their views.
Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Warner of Virginia, Democrats with “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association, have both said it is time to talk about restrictions on gun sales and ownership. Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman and now morning host on MSNBC, said Monday that the Newtown killings had changed his mind about gun control.
And some lawmakers are already preparing to take action, like Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who plans to submit a bill in the next Congress that would update and tighten the loophole-riddled 1994 assault weapons bill that she wrote and that remained law until it expired in 2004.
In that spirit, we are devoting this page to the gun epidemic, and the violence it has caused, and plan to return to the subject frequently, analyzing the challenge but mostly looking at solutions — all of which start with the hard truth that it is past time for both sides of the gun debate to be less inflexible on the issue of a Constitutionally mandated right to bear arms.
Those who believe, as we do, that the Second Amendment does not provide each American with an absolute right to own guns, must recognize that this position can alienate sympathetic listeners and is not likely to prevail any time soon. We must respect the legitimate concerns of law-abiding, safety conscious gun owners, in order to find common ground against unyielding ideologues.
The challenge for the antigun-control side was put well by Mr. Scarborough, who said Monday that he had changed his view of the gun debate as a question of individual rights versus government control, and now sees it as an issue of public safety. There are no rights granted by the Constitution that are so absolute that they erase concerns about public safety and welfare.
There is reason, this time around, to hope that both parties can shake off the N.R.A. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York pointed out on Sunday that the lobby had failed to defeat Mr. Obama this year. And Representative John Yarmuth, a moderate Democrat from Kentucky, said: “The National Rifle Association has spent untold millions of dollars instilling fear in our citizens and our politicians. I believe it is more rational to fear guns far more than the illusory political power of the N.R.A.”
In fact, poll after poll has shown that N.R.A. members themselves are not opposed to measures like criminal background checks on gun sellers and gun buyers.