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Editorial: Time to act on gun control

“Now is the time.” That’s the mantra that President Barack Obama has adopted in pushing for action on gun control. Five days after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., the president announced that Vice President Joseph Biden would head a commission charged with coming up with policies to reduce gun violence.

On Jan. 16 the White House released the commission’s recommendations, calling them “commonsense steps.” Among those steps are requiring background checks for all gun purchases and a stronger system for conducting those checks; instituting a new ban on assault weapons, more stringent than the one in effect in the 1990s; limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds; ending the current freeze on gun violence research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and providing coverage of treatment for mental health issues, especially among young people.

The same day, Jan. 16, Gov. Deval Patrick filed gun safety legislation in Massachusetts, saying, “I am encouraged by the palpable consensus in the Legislature that the time for action is now.”

Among the changes Patrick is seeking is to bring gun-purchase background checks in Massachusetts in line with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Right now the Bay State, like many others, does not routinely submit mental health records to this national database, substantially lessening its effectiveness.

The momentum to act is growing on other fronts as well. There’s the grassroots group One Million Moms for Gun Control, which its founder likens to another group that succeeded in pushing changes in both laws and public attitudes: Mothers Against Drunk Driving. There’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, founded in 2006 by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The group has more than 800 member mayors — Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz among them — and just launched a campaign called Demand a Plan that asks Americans to demand that their lawmakers take three concrete gun-control steps: require background checks for every gun sold in the United States; ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines for ammunition; and make gun trafficking a federal crime. And there is a new political action committee promoting gun control measures: Independence USA, bankrolled by Bloomberg.

On Thursday Dianne Feinstein of California filed the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 in the Senate. One key provision: prohibiting the manufacture, sale, transfer and importing of 157 military-style assault weapons. That broad scope has raised the hackles of gun-rights advocates, and Feinstein has acknowledged that getting the bill approved in the Senate will be tough. But, she said, “If 20 dead children in Newtown wasn’t a wake-up call that these weapons of war don’t belong on our streets, I don’t know what is.”

The issue of gun safety and gun control is complicated by many factors, including the need to respect Second Amendment rights and to recognize the role of mental illness in some instances of gun violence. Gov. Patrick acknowledged the latter in his gun safety legislation when he proposed a related $5 million increase in Department of Mental Health programs.

But just because the gun control issue is complicated doesn’t mean reform isn’t worth pursuing. As the White House says, “No single law — or even set of laws — can prevent every act of violence in our country. But the fact that this problem is complex can not be an excuse for inaction.”

We agree. Specific, thoughtful proposals are on the table. Now truly is the time to follow through.

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