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December 8, 2015

In the horror in San Bernardino, Calif., a husband and wife walked into a social services center armed with two AR-15 style semiautomatic assault rifles and two 9 mm semiautomatic handguns, with 1,400 rounds of ammunition for the rifles. They opened fire, leaving 14 dead and 23 wounded. We now know that they had apparently committed themselves to the Islamic State. This was an act of terror.

In Colorado Springs, Colo., Robert Dear walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic armed with a “long gun” and started shooting, leaving three dead and nine injured. This, too, was an act of terror.

Mass shootings — with more than four victims — occur in this country at the rate of more than one a day. There are more guns now in private hands in America than there are people. Our weak gun laws make it “just too easy,” as President Obama put it, for terrorists or the mentally unbalanced or the irate to walk in and buy an assault weapon, designed explicitly to kill lots of people in battle.

The San Bernardino killings have triggered a fierce political debate. Republican presidential candidates are using the occasion to indict President Obama for being too passive or too weak. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio condemn the modest reforms to limit NSA access to private telephone records, suggesting that the right to privacy and the Fourth Amendment must be sacrificed in order to counter terrorism. They call for a war on all fronts against terror — except on guns.

Rubio joined with his Republican senators to kill a modest bill seeking to close the loophole that allows people on the terrorist watch lists to buy guns in America. While the fight against terror requires sacrifice and war, he argues, it should not restrict the right of those on terrorist watch lists to buy and hold arsenals.

The ban on the sale of assault weapons used to enjoy bipartisan support. Closing of all loopholes for background checks seems just common sense. In fact, four in five Americans support background checks. Similarly numbers would prevent the mentally ill from owning guns. Seven of 10 support creating a federal database on gun ownership. Majorities would ban the sale of assault weapons.

Despite this, common sense gun control has become a bitter partisan issue. The Washington Post reports that from 1993 to 2007 Republicans were split about 50-50 on gun control, with Democrats 2 to 1 in favor. Then after the election of Barack Obama, Democrats didn’t change their views, but now 75 percent of Republicans line up against more gun control. Gun ownership — even of assault weapons — is increasingly defended as a “check against government tyranny.” After Colorado Springs or San Bernardino, or Connecticut or Oregon or Virginia or South Carolina, the gun lobby and their allies argue that more guns are the answer, not part of the problem.

Common sense gun control won’t happen until this partisan divide is broken. It can advance in blue states, perhaps, and in blue municipalities where the state hasn’t banned local action. National reforms won’t happen until people break the partisan stalemate. This is a time for people of faith — of all denominations — to come together and demand common sense reforms to limit the gun epidemic that continues to spread.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

Journalist, Civil Rights Activist, Minister