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The New York Times

Weapons of War at the Mall and Church

New York Times Editorial

Barely touched on in the coverage of the two latest gun rampages is how the disturbed shooters could so easily obtain assault rifles - weapons designed for waging war. In separate random massacres, eight people were slain at an Omaha shopping mall last Wednesday and four were more shot dead Sunday at two Colorado churches. The Omaha killer took his stepfather's rapid-fire rifle from a closet to pick off Christmas shoppers. In Colorado, the gunman, leaving behind an Internet screed referenced to the 1999 Columbine massacre, was equipped with two assault rifles, three handguns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

How could this happen? That's the great American cliché attached to these ever-mounting tragedies. We all know the answer. Guns are ubiquitous in this country, and the gun lobby is so powerful that this year's toll of 30,000 gun deaths makes barely a political ripple.

Until recently, the nation did have a law designed to protect the public from assault rifles and other high-tech infantry weapons. In 1994, enough politicians felt the public's fear to respond with a 10-year ban on assault-weapons that was not perfect but dented the free-marketeering of Rambo mayhem. Most Americans rejected the gun lobby's absurd claim that assault rifles are "sporting" weapons. But when it came up for renewal in 2004, President Bush and Congress caved to the gun lobby and allowed the law to lapse. This was despite Mr. Bush's campaign vow to renew the ban. It was especially frightening to see the ban expire in the very midst of politicians' endless post-9/11 invoking of homeland security.

New presidential candidates are now wooing voters. Surely they can't wait to address the latest slayings with a detailed plan of action at the very next televised debate. Surely moderators can hold off on immigration and finding out who believes more in the bible to bring up the latest rampages.

Instead of asking how could this happen, the country needs to know who is going to stop it.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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