THE ATTACKS of Sept. 11, 2001, so terrified many Americans that they were willing to forfeit many of their cherished constitutional rights to "keep us safe."
The official death toll from 9/11 was 2,794.
Since that terrible day, an estimated 210,000 people have been killed by guns in America, according to the advocacy group CeasefirePA. Yet America's political leaders not only resist common-sense limitations on the sale of guns, they set up legal barriers to "keeping us safe" - hindering police investigations of gun crimes and the identification of gun traffickers.
What is wrong with us? Mass killings multiply (at least 68 in just the past couple of months.) The death toll on this city's mean streets continues to rise. Police officers continue to die. And each year, 16,000 people use guns to commit suicide.
And we're worried about H1N1 flu?
This perilous moment should provide the impetus to finally throw off the yoke of the National Rifle Association. Instead, Democrats in Congress - and the Democrat in the White House - have handed it victories it couldn't manage while Republicans ran the show:
* Despite that many assault weapons being used by drug lords in Mexico come from the United States, President Obama's promise to reinstate a ban on assault weapons apparently is not going to happen anytime soon.
* Obama's 2010 budget repeals only part of the
Tiahrt Amendment, which has prevented the federal government from providing information to local police investigating gun crimes. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) soon will be able to share trace data with law enforcement investigating individual crimes for links to broader criminal networks.
But Obama keeps in place other restrictions: ATF is still prevented from requiring gun dealers to conduct inventory inspections for lost and stolen guns. The FBI is still required to destroy gun background-check records within 24 hours - depriving police of investigative tools that might allow them to detect illegal straw purchases.
So, instead of being totally handcuffed, law enforcement has been freed to fight gun crime with one hand tied behind its back.
And, come next February, loaded guns will be allowed in national parks.
Weren't elections supposed to have consequences? Not when it comes to guns, apparently.
It's clear that change, if it's going to come, will have to come from the bottom. There is some hope on that front.
Twelve protesters were acquitted in Philadelphia Municipal Court last week on charges stemming from civil disobedience at the Colosimo's gun shop on Spring Garden Street in January.
Religious activists continue to hold vigils twice a week trying to persuade Colosimo and other gun dealers to adopt a voluntary code of conduct already in place at Wal-Mart. The protesters are only the most visible members of a growing movement of local faith communities to identify gun violence as the moral issue it is. They deserve support.
The city of Lancaster last week began considering a law to require owners to report lost or stolen guns. If passed, Lancaster would be the seventh Pennsylvania municipality to do so. CeasefirePA also has helped recruit 69 Pennsylvania mayors - from Philadelphia to Tower City to Slatington - to join the national Mayors Against Illegal Guns organization, which is pushing reasonable changes on the local and state levels. The progress is slow, but it's relentless.
If the president and the Congress won't fulfill their promises to keep us safe, or at least safer, can we step up? Yes, yes we can. *