Political self-interest must never trump public safety - and yet President Obama is dancing delicately around the fringes of life-and-death gun-control issues rather than facing them down. This is not leadership.

Obama's call in the Arizona Daily Star last week for better firearms enforcement fell far short of the kind of common-sense, middle-of-the-road reforms that are needed in this country - and that also, ironically, generally prevail in public opinion polls.

The president's exclusive offering to the Star clearly was prompted by the Jan. 8 shootings here that killed six people and injured 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Yet Obama's article ignored glaring failures in our laws that abetted the Jan. 8 shooter in wreaking tragic havoc.

Obama argued that better enforcement of existing laws, especially the background check system; rewarding states for providing better data to back up the system; and quicker background checks must be priorities.

We agree. But the president failed to step up and insist on meat-and-potato reforms that also are imperative, including several he supported in his campaign. Among them:

• Reinstating the expired federal ban on military-style assault weapons.

He's not talking about it now, but during the campaign Obama supported reimposition of the 1994 ban, which expired in 2004. We do, too; but the old ban was flawed and a new ban should be modeled on California's law, which uses a "one-feature" definition, banning private ownership of weapons with just one military-style feature, such as bayonet mounts, threads for silencers or flash suppressors.

No legitimate gun owner needs to use a weapon such as the .50-caliber sniper rifle, which is easier to buy legally in most states than a handgun and which is highly accurate from a mile away, firing ammunition that can pierce reinforced armor such as that on airplanes and fuel tanks.

• Reinstating a federal ban on extended-capacity magazines.

No one, not a woman carrying a weapon for self-defense or a hobbyist shooting at targets, needs to fire 30 shots in less than 30 seconds. There's no way to prevent all shooting rampages, but we can reduce the amount of carnage shooters are equipped to do.

Ten rounds is the limit that would be imposed by a bill in Congress introduced by U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat, and by a bill in the Arizona Legislature, introduced by Tucson Democratic Rep. Steven Farley. We support both measures. Obama should, too.

• Closing the gun-show "loophole," an intentional exception to the background check law which allows criminals and other undesirable gun buyers to acquire firearms in private sales.

Again, Obama is silent on this now, but he supported it during the campaign. Federal law requires that background checks be made by federally licensed gun sellers, but not by private sellers doing deals at gun shows, flea markets, garage sales or among private acquaintances.

Our view is that in order to keep firearms out of the hands of the most dangerous people, anyone who sells a gun should be required to check out the buyer through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) system or, as in California, do the deal only through a licensed retailer.

• Improve the NICS system itself. It relies largely on data provided by the states, and many states - among them Arizona - don't provide much, especially information about people found too dangerously mentally ill to legally purchase weapons.

Obama wrote that he would reward states that do a good job in sharing this information; fine, but let's also consider ways to punish states that do not.

• As we noted last month, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is badly underfunded. Obama should be leading the charge to get ATF into fighting shape.

The National Rifle Association says that Obama's focus as outlined in his Star article is misplaced; that he should be talking about "criminals or mental health issues," not gun laws. We disagree that the two issues can be mutually exclusive.

The Obama administration last week held meetings on the issues at the U.S. Department of Justice.

But media reports suggest Obama's team didn't offer a priority list of gun-control reforms. Instead, it apparently wanted only to encourage discussion from the NRA (which didn't show up), the ATF, FBI, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, among others.

We understand that gun control initiatives can endanger political careers; the NRA can put millions into the pockets of candidates who agree with it.

We also understand that the president would like to be re-elected in 2012 and isn't eager to endanger the careers of Democrats serving in Congress.

But there's a time for leadership that sets aside calculations of political self-interest.

On reforming America's gun laws, that time is now.

Arizona Daily Star

More info

Read more about the Star's positions on gun reform at azstarnet.com/editorials-guncontrol