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Meaningful action

Flame.jpgIf you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter in the past few days, it’s pretty clear that people are mad, and they all have someone to blame for what happened in CT. While we as a society all ultimately share some responsibility, that really should not be our focus. As always, we cannot change the past, we do can change the future. The question, of course, is how.

No matter how you feel about guns, and gun control, the stats don’t lie. There have been hundreds of mass shootings since 2005 alone, and 34 Americans are killed by guns each day, not including suicides and accidents. Far more Americans have been killed by guns within the U.S. than have died in all our wars combined. You don’t hear about mass knifings.

Ok, sometimes you do, but you’ll notice the lack of fatalities.

Contrary to the claims of right-wing and even some mainstream pundits, the American people, including gun owners, strongly support common-sense measures to prevent gun violence. Even in swing states, most voters strongly support stronger gun laws, with nearly two-thirds of Americans agree that we should ban the sale of assault weapons. Nearly two-thirds support banning high-capacity magazines or clips that can hold 30, 50, or 100 bullets at a time. Nearly 90% support requiring all gun buyers to pass a criminal background check, no matter where they purchase the weapon or from whom they buy it.

Would any of these measures had made a difference yesterday in CT? Sure. Lower capacity magazines would have forced the shooter to reload, thereby slowing down. Would any of these have completely prevented the slaughter of innocents in CT? No. Not even close.

From a policy perspective, it’s almost impossible to know where to begin. We can tighten gun regulations, restrict access to bullets, build every school like a prison, give the entire population mental health screenings, or issue every child a Kevlar backpack. This is obviously not my area of expertise, but there are people who have dedicated their entire professional lives to questions like these. Maybe we should start listening to them.

We have a long history of waiting for a tragedy to force our policymakers into taking action on a problem that has long been identified as a danger, and the response is often the wrong one. Politics is a woefully blunt instrument of social medicine, but when lives are being lost, I much prefer overreaction to no action.  

This certainly is not the first mass shooting in the US, and will probably not be the last, but if we take this opportunity to press for action on this issue, then perhaps we can begin to honor the lives we lost in CT, as brief as they may have been. Because this time it was in Newtown, but it could just as easily have been in Raleigh, Greensboro, Wilmington, or Charlotte.  As President Obama said on Friday, “These neighbors are our neighbors, and these children are our children, and we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this - regardless of the politics.”

As bad as Friday was, it was only the second most deadly school shooting in US history. We must be careful not waste this crisis, lest we have another ­­­to remind us of our failings. Again.