'End the gun epidemic' - New York Times front page editorial

Timeline for San Bernardino mass shooting
Timeline for San Bernardino mass shooting

In its first front-page editorial in nearly 100 years, The New York Times is calling for a drastic reduction in the availability of guns in America.

"Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership," the editorial board of The Times says.

"It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens."

The editorial will be published on Page One of Saturday's newspaper, in a space typically reserved for news coverage, not opinion.

Editorials are written by a staff of editors who operate independently from the newsroom. Newspapers like The Times usually emphasize and enforce a divide between the news side and the opinion side.

But not this time. The placement of the editorial on the front page is intended to stoke public debate about stricter gun regulations.

In a statement, The Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger said he wanted to "deliver a strong and visible statement of frustration and anguish about our country's inability to come to terms with the scourge of guns."

He did not respond to a request for further comment on Friday night.

His newspaper's editorial does not mince words: the writers say "it is past time to stop talking about halting the spread of firearms, and instead to reduce their number drastically — eliminating some large categories of weapons and ammunition."

They also call it "a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency."

The message will certainly resonate with many of The Times' subscribers in urban areas. Regular readers know that the newspaper's liberal editorial board strongly favors firearm restrictions.

In July, for example, the editorial board said that "despite the gun lobby's absolutist outcries, the right to bear arms remains a qualified one, subject to reasonable controls."

But with this front page piece, The Times is going further, and it is sure to raise the ire of some subscribers and others.

According to the newspaper, its last front-page editorial came out on July 13, 1920. It was about Warren G. Harding being nominated for president by the Republican party.

Page One is the most valuable real estate The Times has; I should know, because I worked there for six years and fought to get my stories on there.

Sulzberger acknowledged in his statement that there hasn't been a front page editorial in many decades.

"Even in this digital age, the front page remains an incredibly strong and powerful way to surface issues that demand attention," he said. "And, what issue is more important than our nation's failure to protect its citizens?"

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