Editorial: US gun row has implications for US
By taking on the United States' powerful gun lobby, President Barack Obama has bought a fight that promises to make his first-term battle to reform healthcare look like a tea party.
Spurred into action by the horrific massacre of 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six adults at a Connecticut primary school, Mr Obama is seeking to introduce the most sweeping gun control laws the US has seen.
In doing so, he has set up a confrontation with the National Rifle Association, a well-resourced and aggressive group that believes the answer to America's appalling rates of gun crime is not to restrict firearms, but simply to let more people carry them.
Members of Congress from both the Republicans and Mr Obama's own Democratic party are also gearing up to oppose his planned reforms. Even he is predicting that getting many of them passed into law will be difficult.
However, he is right to try.
The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14 underscored the insanity of the US' liberal gun laws. So, too, do many of the changes Mr Obama wants to introduce.
They include banning assault weapons, gun magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds and armour-piercing ammunition. It is a mystery why they are legal at all.
Mr Obama also intends beefing up checks on those seeking to buy firearms, so that private sellers are included. It is estimated that 40 per cent of US gun sales are by people who are not required to vet buyers.
Statistics quoted by the president illustrate the effect gun control laws can have. He cited a 2010 survey by the US Police Executive Research Forum that found that more than a third of police departments recorded an increase in criminals using assault weapons and high-capacity magazines since a 10-year ban on them expired in 2004.
Getting that sort of firepower off the streets is the logical first step to preventing the sort of gun massacres that have become a tragically regular occurrence in the US.
The Sandy Hook spree also highlighted the risk of New Zealand allowing military-style semi-automatic weapons. Although the rules on their purchase and possession were tightened after the 1990 Aramoana shootings, a subsequent recommendation from retired High Court judge Sir Thomas Thorp's 1997 review of New Zealand's gun laws that they be banned altogether has never been acted upon.
The danger of their being obtained by people who should not have them was illustrated when Napier gunman Jan Molenaar shot dead Senior Constable Len Snee in 2009.
Molenaar, whose firearms licence expired when 10-year permits came into force in 2002, had an arsenal of at least 18 semi-automatic and military-style firearms at his home.
New Zealand already has stricter gun control laws then the US, and the vast majority of gun owners here take their responsibilities seriously.
However, no-one has ever adequately explained why anybody needs a firearm capable of loosing off 30 rounds or more in a matter of seconds.
As long as they are legal, there is always a danger they will fall into the wrong hands.
The Dominion Post