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Let’s stop talking; it’s time to change our gun laws

Every few months, it seems, our nation is confronted by a mass killing in which a disturbed and disillusioned gunman with visions of notoriety opens fire with intent to kill, maim and shock us to our core. And like a ritual, we go through a circular process of disbelief, grief, outrage, and ultimately, acceptance. Whether it’s on a college campus, in a crowded theater or at a suburban mall, the location and body count changes, but we do not.

That’s because we are a gun culture and we’ve been led to believe that any legislative action that limits perceived Second Amendment rights somehow makes us less safe, less free, less American.

If you’re a parent, ask yourself, do you feel safer today? Do you feel more free? Or are you terrified that someday the location that will pop up on news sites across the world will be your hometown?

There are no easy solutions to the undoubted mental illness and instability that leads to mass killings, such as what we saw on Friday when a gunman killed 20 young children and six staff members at an elementary school in Connecticut. No measure of gun control, no amount of counseling and no system of protection will ever eliminate acts by those looking for carnage.

But there are solutions that will limit the effectiveness for those who have a singular motive to take as many lives as they can in as short a period as possible.

We can start by extending the ban on semi-automatic firearms, which are the go-to weapons in many of these types of terrorist attacks. We can also dramatically increase the waiting period needed to obtain a firearm while broadening the background checks that are currently required. Mostly, we can look to how other nations have dealt with the issue because America stands alone both in its open gun culture and its high rate of gun mortality. To believe that one doesn’t affect the other requires that we twist logic, or worse, look the other way.

Outside of the military and limited use by police, weapons intended for warfare should have no place in our society, a common-sense realization made by all other developed nations. Yet, that notion is blasphemous in America ­— and especially here in New Hampshire where the right to protect ourselves has become ingrained in our psyche.

We can blame the National Rifle Associate, which is strident in its belief and unapologetic even amid the worst of the atrocities. But they’re a business looking to protect what’s theirs. Our elected leaders, however, have been mostly silent when it’s mattered most. They say all the right things about “unspeakable tragedies” and “hugging your children tighter” and that “it’s time to start the conversation.” But the conversation started in earnest in 1999 in Columbine, Colo. We’ve been wasting time and watching gun deaths mount since then. If this isn’t the time to finally take real action, then how many more senseless killings will it take?

President Obama spoke during the 2008 election about extending controls on semiautomatic weapons, controls that didn’t ban their use but only limited how much death they could cause. Since then, he’s done precious little while watching as precious life was taken in various incidents in all corners of the country.

In an address to the nation Sunday night, Obama hinted at a White House-led effort to introduce meaningful legislation, though he didn’t go as far as to say we need to take action on the ease at which criminals can get guns. With a grieving community in attendance, it certainly wasn’t the place to launch the political battle that’s sure to follow. But the coming days and weeks are.

In the meantime, what alternate solutions are we offering to make us safe? Should we plant armed officers at every corner of our world, including in every school. Should we double down on the arms race and all carry concealed weapons? Or should we take on a fight for reasonable measures that no one seems willing to wage?

Teachers and school officials should speak out about ways to ensure safety within our schools. Police officers who deal with the most violent among us should speak out about ways to make our society safer. Responsible gun owners who understand that the violent and the unstable shouldn’t have equal access need to speak out to help craft common-sense approaches that protect their rights and make us safer. And residents who are tired of waiting for the next tragedy need to speak out about solutions that will bring reason back into the discussion. We need a better federal weapons policy in the United States, and we need it now.

We were happy to hear about the outpouring of concern local school officials and ministers expressed Monday about the safety of schools and the need to process the tragedy in Newtown. School administrators in a number of our local districts told us they had child experts on hand to talk with students as needed and the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church is planning a vigil for the families of Newtown on Thursday. But while we do what we can to restore public confidence in school safety, we’ll also be challenged to stretch beyond mere coping strategies towards a lasting solution.

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