The horror that unfolded Friday in a Connecticut elementary school leading to the deaths of at least 26, including 20 children, is a heart-wrenching reminder of how desperately this country needs to have an honest conversation about guns and violence. President Barack Obama, as he offered condolences, said, "We're going to have to come together to take meaningful action, regardless of the politics." It's past time for politicians — Democrat and Republican — to talk about gun control.
Contrary to what the self-serving National Rifle Association would have its members believe, Obama has not made one move to limit Americans' access to guns. And in Florida, the Republican-led Legislature has rolled over time and again to make access to guns easier.
Yet Friday's violence came less than a week after a deadly assault at an Oregon shopping mall, four months after six were killed in a Wisconsin temple, and five months after 12 died in a Colorado movie theater. Now there is another group of survivors who will have to live with the aftermath of this day for a lifetime.
Gun advocates will insist that acts of such deranged individuals must not be conflated to affect the rights of millions of Americans who choose to own firearms. Many will even argue that by more heavily arming the public — such as the announcement this week that Florida will soon have 1 million concealed-weapons permit holders — the country is safer. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported a record number of background checks on Black Friday this year for weapons purchases, nearly 155,000 in a single day.
But would those advocates suggest that schoolteachers keep a weapon in the classroom?
NBC Sports analyst Bob Costas was vilified by gun advocates this month when he used his post on Sunday Night Football to publicly lament the nation's gun culture and how it had taken root among members of the National Football League.
Costas' comments came after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered the mother of his 3-month-old daughter and then killed himself. Costas suggested that Belcher and his girlfriend would still be alive had Belcher never had a gun. Indeed, how many incidences in America turn deadly — from road rage or domestic assault — simply because a gun is within reach? There are many ways to measure the American gun culture. Here's just one: The rate of gun-related homicides in the United States is 10 times that of other NATO nations.
No, gun control won't stop all gun violence. But it could stem the tide. Two reasonable places to start: Congress should close the federal loophole that allows the purchase of handguns at gun shows without required background checks. And in Florida, lawmakers should reverse a 6-year-old public records exemption for concealed-weapons permit holders that prevents the public from knowing who has a right to secretly pack a gun in public places. Then the debate should move on to assault rifles, the size of magazine clips and unlimited access to ammunition.
For too long in America, the reaction to unspeakable tragedies like the one Friday in Newtown, Conn., has been silence from political leaders. They have allowed fear of retribution from the NRA to trump any common-sense debate, much less legislation. Now with innocent schoolchildren dead, it is past time to turn grief into action.