When I hunt ducks on the Mississippi River, my shotgun needs to contain a plug that limits the number of shells in my gun at any one time to three. If I were to encounter a warden and he found more than that in my gun, it would be confiscated on the spot.
Adam Lanza carried an AR-15 rifle into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. His rifle held 100 rounds of ammunition. It was legal.
The reason for the limit of three rounds in my shotgun is to give the ducks a fair chance. We offer no similar fair chase rule to six-year-olds.
The AR-15 and similar high capacity semi-automatic weapons and all handguns simply have no place in our society. They are highly deadly human-killing machines, and if we lived in a sane society, their manufacture, sale and possession would be banned.
But we live in the firearm-saturated United States of America, where gun ownership is anachronistically and tragically enshrined in our Constitution. I would be for repeal of the Second Amendment if I didn't think it was a dangerous idea to start messing with the Bill of Rights.
So, what can we do?
In yesterday's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof recounted the experience of Australia, a nation with a similar temperament to ours. A mass shooting there in 1996 prompted the government to ban weapons like the AR-15 and start a massive gun buy back program.
Today, the number of guns in Australia is down by a fifth, the gun murder rate is down by 40%, and there has not been a single mass gun killing since the law passed, compared to thirteen in the two decades before it went into effect.
And before you can buy a gun in Canada, you need to wait 28 days and bring two witnesses who will attest to your character.
My own idea (though I'm sure it's not original to me) is to heavily tax all ammunition and outlaw certain kinds of ammunition altogether. After all, for all those strict constructionists out there, the Constitution talks about the right to keep arms, but it doesn't mention ammunition. Proceeds from the tax could be used in gun buy back program similar to Australia's.
Last night, President Obama delivered a relatively strong speech in which he promised action. I was disappointed that he didn't utter the words "gun control," but I'll take him at his word when he said, "I'll use whatever power this office holds in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this."
That effort can't be about dithering around the edges. The president needs to propose and fight for the toughest limits on guns and ammunition that can be achieved in this nation.