Editorial: Courage Required; A Tepid Call for Action

“We should have the courage, every one of us to vote for those steps” that will prevent future massacres like the one in Newtown, Conn., said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on the floor of the Senate, just a few days after the shootings.

Yes, they should. But do they?

While lawmakers from other parts of the country have responded to the horror of the Newtown shootings by signaling a willingness to defy the gun lobby, the members of the Twin State congressional delegations have mostly offered profiles in timidity. When Valley News staff writer Ben Conarck sought comment from the representatives on Monday, only Democratic Rep.-elect Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire made herself available for an interview — perhaps because she was the only lawmaker who had something to say. Shea-Porter unequivocally threw her support behind the growing movement for reinstating a federal ban on the sale of assault weapons.

The others? They were shocked and outraged, of course. They hugged their children and grandchildren. They all said the country must do something to end the scourge.

But when it came to actually committing themselves to supporting any of the specific, common-sense measures that have been proposed to begin making headway — the assault weapon ban, prohibitions on high-capacity ammunition clips and a wider application of background checks for gun buyers — they offered little.

It is not out of the question that most members of the two delegations eventually will support some of these measures. Subservience to the gun lobby may be standard operating procedure for northern New England politicians, but Leahy and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., did support the assault weapon ban enacted in 1994, and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., at least identified assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips as matters that needed “addressing.”

But still, if the outrage and revulsion that followed the gunning down of 20 elementary schoolchildren and six of their educators aren’t powerful enough to move our elected representatives to express their opinions with the same sense of urgency and clarity they apply to their announcements of federal grants, their constituents have every reason to fear that the Newtown shootings will not prove to be the “transformational moment” Welch called it — and that many of his constituents fervently hope for. Is the gun lobby so strong that even the three entrenched and popular liberals in the progressive state of Vermont have to worry about the consequences of incurring its displeasure?

More to the point, was not the Newtown tragedy sufficiently shocking to motivate our elected representatives to do what only they have the power to do: change federal law to create some impediments to acquiring these terrible weapons? And to that end, is this not the opportune moment for clarifying that it’s possible to enact sensible controls without infringing on legitimate gun rights?

Our elected representatives need help in steeling their courage. Contact them:

Rep. Peter Welch: 2303 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; 202-225-4115; http://welch.house.gov.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: 332 Dirksen Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; 202-224-5141; http://www.sanders.senate.gov.

Sen. Patrick Leahy: 437 Russell Senate Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; 202-224-4242; http://www.leahy.senate.gov.

Rep.-elect Ann McLane Kuster: info@kusterforcongress.com; 603-225-3327.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: 520 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; 202-224-2841; http://www.shaheen.senate.gov.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte: 144 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; 202-224-3324; http://www.ayotte.senate.gov.

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