The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, has caused many people, including people at the White House, to say that this is not the day to talk about gun policy. This day is obviously for mourning the dead, but I don't understand why we shouldn't talk about the conditions that lead to these sorts of shootings. I wrote about this issue in the current issue of The Atlantic (you can read the story here), and I want to quickly make a few points drawn from that longer article.
1) This is a gun country. We are saturated with guns. There are as many as 300 million guns in circulation today (the majority owned legally, but many not) and more than 4 million new guns come onto the market each year. To talk about eradicating guns, especially given what the Supreme Court has said about the individual right to gun-ownership, is futile.
2) There are, however, some gun control laws that could be strengthened. The so-called gun-show loophole (which is not a loophole at all -- 40 percent of all guns sold in America legally are sold without benefit of a federal background check) should be closed. Background checks are no panacea -- many of our country's recent mass-shooters had no previous criminal records, and had not been previously adjudicated mentally ill -- but they would certainly stop some people from buying weapons.