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Gun control: Taken down

EVERY so often there appears to be a turning point in the debate over guns in America. The latest came in December, when 20 children and six staff were shot to death at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. “We can’t tolerate this any more,” said Barack Obama shortly afterwards. “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” Americans seemed to agree. Polls showed increased support for stricter gun laws in the aftermath of the shooting. But as the months passed, that enthusiasm waned.Sensing this, in March Democrats in the Senate introduced only a modest bill that contained few of the big restrictions first sought by gun-control advocates and by the administration. It aimed to toughen penalties for illegal gun sales and increase funding for school-safety programmes. Most important, it would have expanded the use of background checks, which are meant to keep unfit people, like criminals and the mentally ill, from acquiring guns. Under current law, such checks are required only for sales handled by a licensed dealer. The bill would have extended the requirement to all purchases.Although immensely popular, this was poison to many Republican legislators, who do not like the idea of government interference in private sales. So a compromise was hashed out between two pro-gun senators—Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Patrick Toomey, a Republican from…

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