Time is now for Democrats to grab gun violence issue

WASHINGTON – The slaughter of Dallas police protecting peaceful protesters has put the national tragedy of gun violence in sharper and more ironic relief than ever before.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown reported that the shooter said, before being killed himself, that he was out to wipe out as many white police as he could. The statement should remove doubt about the motivation there, and by inference in the current escalation of racial tensions in cities across the country.

President Obama, speaking from a NATO conference in Warsaw, went the core of the epidemic, saying the brutal incident was “a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement.” He noted that “when people are armed with powerful weapons, unfortunately it makes attacks like these more deadly and more tragic. And in the days ahead, we’re going to have to consider those realities as well.”

That observation suggested he may be ready now to push for reinstatement of the ban on semi-automatic assault weapons that was allowed by Congress to lapse in 2004, and to continue the effort to curtail sale of rapid-firing ammunition.

Legislators in both parties have been cowed by the gun lobby led by the National Rifle Association to permit the reintroduction of weapons intended for war onto American streets. The Dallas disaster provides a stark justification for the reinstatement, as well as for 2016 presidential and congressional candidates to express their outrage at this bizarre murder of police protecting citizens’ constitutional right of assembly and protest.

In the presidential campaign, obviously Donald Trump, as an unequivocal defender of the Second Amendment, will have no part of it. Yet he has not only urged police to handle crowd protest but also has egged civilian protesters to get physical against those demonstrating against him.

His presumptive Democratic opponent in November, Hillary Clinton, on the other hand has every reason to join Obama, her new campaign ally, to elevate that call for reinstating the ban on assault weapons and ammunition as a key stand in her campaign, forthrightly taking on the NRA.

She will also have to balance two sentiments required by the situation – support of the police and at the same time of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been fanned by the recurring incidents of racial targeting by police.

Ever since the abandonment of the fight against assault weapons, the Democrats as a party have pretty much treated the issue as a hazardous and untouchable third rail, just as Social Security reform has been for the Republicans.

But there is no better time than now for the Democrats at last to seize the gun violence issue head on, and no candidate better positioned to do so than Hillary Clinton, with Barack Obama at her side.

Public opinion polls continue to show wide support for stronger gun controls, and Clinton can well take the risk, considering the difficulties Trump has been encountering in his own party and with general public heading into his national convention.

It has been 53 years since Dallas was eternally marked as the site of the assassination of President Kennedy. This latest massacre of its police force is a particularly unfortunate commentary on the city, regardless of what we will learn about its perpetrators and motivations.

But if the episode can play a role in rallying the country to address its most conspicuous and damning societal illness, it will be a welcome and necessary beginning.