The New York Times, in rare front-page editorial, calls for outlawing of some kinds of rifles

People stand by a pop-up memorial in San Bernardino, California.
People stand by a pop-up memorial in San Bernardino, California.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Times, in its first front-page editorial in nearly a century, on Saturday (Dec 5) called for outlawing the kinds of rifles used in the California shooting massacre this week that left 14 people dead.

"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 New York Times editorial said.

The editorial went on to argue that an act to outlaw such weapons would "require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens".

The piece made brief mention of other US mass shootings. "Let's be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism," it said.

It is the first time The Times has run an editorial on the front page since 1920, when the newspaper expressed dismay at the nomination of Warren G. Harding as the Republican presidential candidate. Harding went on to win the election that year.

President Barack Obama has called for legislation to make it harder for criminals to get guns. He has noted mass shootings do not happen as frequently in other advanced countries and said the United States should address the problem.

Republicans in Congress have mounted heavy opposition to gun control measures.

The debate over gun control has long been one of the most contentious political issues in the United States, with the right to gun ownership enshrined in the US Constitution's 2nd Amendment.

In a post on the website of the libertarian magazine Reason, senior editor Brian Doherty criticized the editorial, and in particular the call for citizens to eventually give up certain rifles.

"What the Times is calling for is, beyond its countable costs in money and effort and the likely further erosion of civil liberties, also (as they surely know) calling for a massive political civil war the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time," Mr Doherty wrote.

The newspaper's editorial comes three days after Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple, carried out the mass shooting in San Bernardino with legally-purchased, .223 caliber assault-style rifles. FBI officials have said they are investigating the shooting as an "act of terrorism".

The couple also had semi-automatic pistols, and US officials have said Malik is believed to have pledged allegiance to a leader of the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.