Lead­ers must be­gin di­a­logue on our epi­demic of vi­o­lence

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - Barton works for the bi­par­ti­san coali­tion May­ors Against Il­le­gal Guns. He wrote this for the Hart­ford Courant.


deadly shoot­ing ram­page has stunned our na­tion, this time in the quiet sub­urbs of Con­necti­cut. Twenty-seven fam­i­lies have lost loved ones. Par­ents are pre­par­ing to bury their chil­dren. And hun­dreds of ele­men­tary school stu­dents in New­town have sud­denly been robbed of their in­no­cence af­ter hear­ing their class­mates shot and killed over the PA sys­tem. I can­not help but won­der — how much worse do things need to get for our coun­try’s lead­ers to be­gin ad­dress­ing the gun vi­o­lence that plagues us so?

For me this is­sue is deeply per­sonal. I grew up in South­bury, just next door to New­town, and in July, I al­most died af­ter a gun­man opened fire on a crowded the­ater at the Cen­tury 16 in Aurora, Colo. Just a few min­utes into the mid­night show­ing of the new “Bat­man” movie, a tear-gas can­is­ter flew across the the­ater and shots rang out. I’ll never for­get the screams.

Though I was hit with 25 shot­gun pel­lets in my face, neck, chest and arms, I was able to es­cape to safety. Twelve of my fel­low movie­go­ers that night were not so lucky.

In the wake of Aurora, our coun­try did what we so of­ten do af­ter suf­fer­ing a na­tional tragedy: We re­flected, we mourned, we ob­served a moment of si­lence. Our elected of­fi­cials in Washington of­fered their con­do­lences, but lit­tle else. There was no ac­tion taken to en­sure that some­thing so hor­rific never hap­pened again. Washington avoided start­ing a mean­ing­ful di­a­logue on gun vi­o­lence, and the costs of that were tragic.

Just weeks af­ter we said “never again,” wor­shipers at a Sikh Tem­ple in Wis­con­sin were bru­tally mur­dered with guns. They were fol­lowed by sev­eral women in a beauty sa­lon out­side of sub­ur­ban Mil­wau­kee, shop­pers in a mall near Port­land, Ore., and most re­cently the young vic­tims at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary in New­town.

Af­ter chok­ing up on na­tional tele­vi­sion, Pres­i­dent Obama re­minded us that th­ese chil­dren had lives ahead of them and fu­ture mile­stones that will go un­cel­e­brated. In­stead of open­ing hol­i­day gifts this sea­son, they’ll be mourned by their par­ents, grand­par­ents and sib­lings.

“Michelle and I will do what I know ev­ery par­ent in Amer­ica will do, which is hug our chil­dren a lit­tle tighter, and we’ll tell them that we love them, and we’ll re­mind each other how deeply we love one an­other,” the pres­i­dent said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day.

His words are touch­ing, but they do lit­tle for the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies, who won’t take com­fort in their loved ones’ warm em­brace tonight or to­mor­row or the day af­ter that. The sen­ti­ment will also be of lit­tle value to the 48,000 Amer­i­cans who will be mur­dered by guns dur­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s sec­ond term.

We need our na­tion’s law­mak­ers to be­gin a con­ver­sa­tion on this epi­demic of vi­o­lence, and we need them to do it now. Now is the time to de­mand a plan.

They can be­gin with the is­sues we all agree upon. For all the pas­sion and in­ten­sity of the de­bate over guns in Amer­ica, there are com­mon­sense re­forms that peo­ple on all sides sup­port, such as re­quir­ing back­ground checks on all firearms pur­chases. Af­ter all, 82 per­cent of gun own­ers — in­clud­ing 74 per­cent of Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers — are in fa­vor of such checks. They be­lieve that sup­port for Sec­ond Amend­ment rights goes hand-in-hand with keep­ing guns out of the wrong hands.

If only our coun­try’s lead­ers would be­gin with the sen­si­ble first steps that no one dis­agrees with, then per­haps 34 Amer­i­cans won’t be killed with guns ev­ery day.

We are all long over­due for a dis­cus­sion on gun vi­o­lence and there’s no bet­ter time than now. We have painfully wit­nessed too many Amer­i­cans dy­ing in our streets, in our the­aters and now in our schools. When will it be too much?

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