What will it take to get real gun controls?

President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night will not long be remembered for what he — or his political adversaries — had to say. Like most such speeches, it was a laundry-list of objectives both lofty and well worn.

But what jumped out at many concerned city dwellers the day after is what was not highlighted in the speech: Gun violence.

Yes, there was the proper acknowledgment of the carnage left in Tuscon on Jan. 8 — and the citizens who responded heroically. But what of the underlying issue? No, not the overheated political rhetoric that can poison the airwaves, but the bigger elephant in the room: Our country’s dysfunctional system for monitoring gun sales and — when necessary— banning them from purchase by specific individuals.

This week, our mayor— Tom Menino—once again pushed for comprehensive federal reforms that would help keep guns out of the hands of society’s most dangerous individuals, without interfering unduly in the Second Amendment rights of everyone else. Menino and New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who co-chair Mayors Against Illegal Guns— launched a new campaign, “Fix Gun Checks,” which has two simple goals: To fix the existing national background check system to include all people who should be on it; and to require a background check for every gun sale in all states.

“There are those who fail to truly read the Second Amendment,” Mayor Menino said in a statement released this week by the coalition, which includes more than 500 mayors across the nation. “They ignore the need for a common sense approach to guns in our communities. The best way to respond to the heinous acts of violence we have seen in our nation’s history is to prevent them from ever happening again. Lax screening in response to these tragic shootings is no virtue.”

Senator John Kerry also introduced legislation this week that would prohibit high-volume ammunition clips like the one the Tucson shooter used in his mass-shooting. Kerry’s bill – co-sponsored with Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey)— would also require new regulations at gun shows.

Gun lobby purists are already howling that such proposed measures are a clear-and-present danger to their civil liberties. The slippery-slope argument— that enacting background checks or restricting firepower— will lead to an outright ban on firearms is alarmist and ridiculous. No reasonable political leader is suggesting that law-abiding, sane individuals cannot buy weapons if they so choose. They just need to do it responsibly.

Governing a diverse and sometimes fractious republic is hard — and the president has a lot on his plate. We get that. But, if now is not the time to push a bit harder for simple reforms that can help ease the burden on communities like ours — when will that time come? We hope the president takes this issue on and begins closing some of the gaping loopholes in federal laws.

-Bill Forry

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