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Chance for a new start

Thursday, December 20, 2012 - Updated: 6:29 PM


Cagle Syndicate

Last week can lose my number, stop telling people we dated in college, and untag the pictures of us together on Facebook.

It's a bad week when my first reaction to what happened in Newtown was, "Oh, another one."

It's a bad week when I asked myself what was stopping something like this from happening at the elementary school my children attend in Austin, and I couldn't come up with an answer.

It's a bad week when you have to turn off the news to stop crying.

It's a bad week when I forgot about the mass shooting in the Clackamas Town Center where I went ice skating as a child even though it had only happened a few days earlier.

It's a bad week when a friend mentioned the Aurora shooting, and I remembered that I had recently watched "The Dark Knight Rises" without once thinking about those poor people who died in the movie theater.

It's a bad week when political cartoonists are running out of ideas for mass shootings.

It's a bad week when we need 20 dead children to be reminded to pray and to hug our children.

It's a bad week when Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee trots out a conservative trope to blame non-evangelical Christians for the school shooting.

"We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we've systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage because we've made it a place where we don't want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability?" asked Huckabee.

I spent many Sundays in a fundamentalist Christian church back home, and I don't remember our pastor ever depicting God as a mafioso who demands protection money lest something happen to our children. Did we kick God out of the Oregon shopping mall, the Colorado cinema or the Wisconsin Sikh temple? Has secularism become so powerful that we can exile an omniscient deity from our public spaces?

Or is there an answer that doesn't demand we suspend both our critical thinking skills and the New Testament promise of a merciful God who loves us unconditionally and doesn't kill our children?

Obama did well to react to this, as he said, "not as a president, but as anybody else would as a parent." And when you see child-sized body bags on television, parents demand we do something.

"As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods 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," said Obama.

For too long, we have silently assented to dealing with mass shootings by indulging ourselves in public expressions of grief without agreeing to have a grownup discussion about what to do about an obvious problem. It has been our unspoken habit to retreat to our trenches in a national tragedy instead of inviting each other to common ground with the humility that we don't have to agree on everything to do something.

Gun-control advocates have a point that assault weapons make mass murderers a heck of a lot more effective than a knife. Second Amendment backers have a good point that the problem isn't the guns, it's the crazy people using them.

A recent poll of National Rifle Association members and gun owners conducted by a Republican pollster provides a good place to start. Three quarters of NRA members and 87 percent of other gun owners support requiring criminal background checks of anyone buying a gun. Will that prevent another Sandy Hook? No, but that's not the point.

The kernel of that poll's finding is that gun owners agree that dangerous people shouldn't be allowed to have guns. Making it the policy of this country that dangerous criminals and lunatics shouldn't have guns is long overdue. Let's start here. Otherwise, we'll be right back here again, perhaps as soon as next week.

JASON STANFORD is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas.


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