Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gun Control: How to Get There

Americans love quick fixes but, where it counts, we have to settle for slow answers.

TV talking heads are clucking today over what went wrong in Blacksburg. As they always do, politicians, pundits and media people are converting a terrible reality into what looks like a national shrug--commissions, round tables, documentaries and legislation that seem to lead nowhere and solve nothing. But they may not be wasting their breath.

Our hopes rest on a less visible process: the deeper, almost glacial advance of cultural change.

If we persist, guns could go the way of cigarettes.

Far fewer of us smoke today than 50 years ago. Decades of research findings, advertising restrictions, label warnings and public education made that happen.

Some Americans still light up, but deaths rates from smoking are down.

So it may be with guns. Surprisingly, despite the blather of National Rifle Association diehards, there are encouraging signs. A reliable new study shows that, in the past quarter of a century, gun ownership in American homes has dropped from 54 to 34.5 percent.

It may be hard to believe at this moment, but the slow drudgery of small steps in controlling the sale, use and social acceptability of assault weapons could avert some future Virginia Techs as surely as the campaign against smoking has prevented some cancer deaths today.

Violence makes dramatic news. Civilized behavior rarely does. It's slow going and doesn't attract as much attention, but it's all we have.

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