Stop kneeling to a small minority

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As bodies pile up, politicians take a knee to a thin slice of America.

ANOTHER WEEK, another couple dozen dead in a mass shooting. This time it was in Texas, at a small-town church, where worshippers ranging from little children to old folks were gunned down at random.

And, again, it's another week and another round of absurd blah-blah vomited forth by politicians. Today, let's focus on what President Trump said, as the nation's leader:

• He said it was a "mental health problem." We agree. Presumptively, anyone who would gun down strangers in a mass shooting is not in a normal state of mind. America must face up to its inadequate system of dealing with people with mental issues that might make them dangerous. By the way, in February Trump signed a bill into law that rolled back a regulation designed to increase gun background checks for people receiving Social Security disability funds as a result of a mental illness.

• Trump went on to say "this isn't a guns situation." And he said it's "too soon" to talk about whether some legislative policy option might have helped prevent the massacre.

REALLY. THE GUNSMOKE has barely cleared the mass killing zone in Las Vegas, where toady politicians for the gun lobby also said it was "too soon" to talk about enhanced firearms checks or even banning the so-called "bump stock" capable of turning a semi-automatic weapon into the next thing to a machine gun. Now, and not surprisingly, the same refrain is heard as Texans prepare to bury their dead.

If not now, when?

We know anyone who does not favor completely unfettered sales and possession of guns is considered by some to be a loony Lefty. We reject that kind of closed mind. This newspaper, for decades, has supported Second Amendment rights, and we still do. And not just for sportsmen. All Americans, under the U.S. Constitution, have the right to keep and bear arms - unless there's a good reason they shouldn't.

That is, by the way, where the U.S. Supreme Court stands. Yes, it has upheld the Second Amendment right of private citizens to keep and bear arms. But the court also made clear that right is not absolute. It can be restricted for compelling reasons.

That makes the Second Amendment just like other rights, strong but not without limit. The First Amendment widely is considered the bedrock of American liberty. But it is not absolute either. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously framed it perfectly, when he stated American free speech did not extend to "falsely shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater."

IT IS PAST TIME the American system stopped being held hostage by a radical extreme fringe that, at best, commands no more than 15 percent of public opinion. That's right. The overwhelming majority of Americans fully supports the concept of universal background checks with accompanying reasonable restrictions for all firearms purchases.

PolitiFact laid out the proof earlier this year, by looking at six different nationwide polls by respected organizations asking people if they were for or against background checks for any individual who is buying a gun. The Quinnipiac University poll scored the highest favorable number, at 94 percent. The lowest favorable number, at 84 percent, was recorded by two pollsters, Public Policy Polling and the Washington University American Panel Survey. The others, by CBS News, Morning Consult and the New York Times, fell between those figures.

Similar polls have shown nearly 3 of 4 members of the National Rifle Association believe universal background checks should be enacted.

And when the question specifically asks if even sales of guns between private parties or at gun shows should be subject to strict background checks, the numbers still come in above 80 percent.

Yet the political class - clearly afraid of this 10-15 percent of Americans who may well vote on the basis of a single issue - sticks to the line of "too soon." For them, the time never will be right.

For the rest of us, this surely is the question: Why are 85-90 percent of Americans tolerating politicians who ignore them to kowtow to an extreme fringe?

COMMON SENSE TELLS US that anyone hoping for a perfect solution that prevents all future slaughters is bound to be disappointed. There is evil in this world, and always has been. Killers will kill.

But that does not justify the constant knee-jerk responses of "too soon" or "don't mess with the Second Amendment" or "nothing we can do."

Let's do what we can.

Require universal background checks for all firearms sales. Law-abiding people of sound mind have nothing to fear, which is why 90 percent of the people support it. And in our mind that would include a lot of firearms owners like the heroic citizen in Texas who saw what was happening, grabbed his own gun and engaged the shooter.

No, background checks are not the fix-all for the problem. But maybe it could make it harder for some unstable people to obtain weapons. Most Americans will see that as a good thing.

LIKEWISE, MAYBE it's time for America to get over its squeamishness about exacting an eye-for-an-eye in deliberate homicidal gun crimes. Perhaps this should be the sentencing guide: If a victim lives, the convicted shooter gets life without parole; if the victim dies, so does the shooter.

The United States has a problem unique in the civilized world. It's time we stop avoiding the conversation.

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