THE DEATH of 20 little children and six courageous adults at Newtown, Conn., has managed to do what no other killing spree could - it has caused heretofore wuss politicians to take a stand and speak out about the need for sensible laws controlling the access to assault weapons and mega-capacity ammunition clips, and it has galvanized national public opinion in support of these efforts.
It didn't happen after Tucson, where we saw the heartbreaking tragedy of the 9-year-old girl killed because she wanted to meet her role model, U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, or after Aurora, when a crazed gunman assassinated 12 people and wounded 58 more, shockingly using a 100-bullet clip to create this carnage.
Perhaps it was because there were so many young children killed and the horrific way they were executed (one child was hit by 17 bullets), or the fact that it happened at school, but the attack at Sandy Hook struck a chord that no other has been able to do. Will it be enough to bring about real change?
We can't forget and go back to business as usual in which the NRA and the powerful gun lobby control Congress. We must keep the pressure on our congressmen and senators and make them decide whether they will side with us, their constituents, or with the NRA.
The president has finally taken a stand and said he will make this issue a priority when Congress returns this month. He has asked Vice President Joe Biden to lead this effort. The legislation should be written speedily and moved to the floor quickly while the emotion remains high. It should not be complicated or try to do too much. It should contain five basic changes that all have strong public support:
* 1. Ban the sale, distribution, import or possession of all assault rifles. The measure should not just reimpose the 1994 bill, which had too many loopholes and left out too many killing machines. For example, the Bushmaster rifle that was used at Newtown and again Christmas Eve to kill two firemen and wound two others in Webster, N.Y., was not classified as an assault rifle, despite the fact it rapid-fires .223 high-velocity bullets that travel at the speed of 3,000 feet per second. The new legislation must be broadened to include killing machines like the Bushmaster.
* 2. Illegalize the sale, distribution, import and possession of high-capacity magazines and clips of more than 10 bullets.
* 3. Close the gun-show loophole so that anyone buying a firearm there must go through the background check that a purchaser at a licensed gun shop is required to do.
* 4. Ban the sale of guns on the Internet, where a background check is impossible.
* 5. Mandate that all states report anyone with mental illness to the federal NIC system so that a background check will disclose it and thereby prevent that individual from buying a gun. This will require legislation that more clearly defines "mental illness" and gives the U.S. attorney general the power to withhold criminal and juvenile-justice money from states that refuse to comply.
This simply drawn, clear legislation would be hard to oppose for anybody who is even slightly reasonable. No one has ever been able to give the rationale that a law-abiding citizen needs an assault rifle or a magazine or clip with more than 10 bullets. A significant majority of Americans agree with banning them. Though doing so would not stop mass murderers, it would definitely limit the amount of carnage they could inflict. Jared Loughner, the Tucson killer, was stopped only when he paused to clear his weapon and put another 30-round clip in. It is absurd to realize that the murderer in Aurora fired 70 shots in under a minute and possessed a 100-bullet magazine.
Requiring a background check before anyone can buy a gun is basic common sense. Without this change, any person - even someone who has been in and out of a mental institution - can get a deadly firearm at a gun show or over the Internet, because these purchasing options are not subject to a background check.
In a recent poll conducted by Frank Luntz, the conservative pollster seen on Fox News, 74 percent of NRA members and 87 percent of all gun owners said they favored such checks' being required.
Though the NRA opposes the first four changes, the American people support them and the people of the Delaware and Lehigh valleys support them in even greater numbers.
So I'm asking our legislators who have not yet declared themselves on these changes - Reps. Charlie Dent, Pat Meehan, Jim Gerlach and Mike Fitzpatrick and Sen. Pat Toomey - to write the editor of the Daily News (Michael Days, 801 Market St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19107, email to email@example.com) and let us know if you stand with the overwhelming number of your constituents or the NRA. We the people have the right to know your answer now.
Ed Rendell served as Pennsylvania governor from 2003 to 2011.