I was one of millions of Americans deeply saddened by the events that unfolded in Newtown, Conn. Dec. 14. I have two younger siblings whom I love very dearly, so the tragedy hit close to home.
The tragedy spoke to a failure of our politicians to protect citizens from gun violence. But now isn’t the time to lament about policies that could have been in place. It’s the time to make sure something like this never happens again.
Unfortunately, no one policy can stop every senseless act. But as President Obama asked in his speech to grieving Newtown, can we really say that we are doing everything in our power to keep our children safe?
There are two cynicisms that have arisen in the wake of this tragedy that trouble me greatly. First, there is the cynicism that maintains that our political system is too broken and corrupt to achieve meaningful change on gun control.
Regardless of such difficulties, the memory of the children and teachers who died at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown — as well as victims of the Aurora, Tucson and other shootings that claim the lives of over 10,000 Americans each year — is worthy of our best efforts to generate the toughest regulations on gun ownership our political system will allow.
I’m even more dismayed by the cynicism that holds that more stringent gun control regulations wouldn’t have mitigated the number and severity of the shootings; that even the strictest laws cannot keep criminals from getting their hands on weapons, and we must therefore accept that tragedies like Newtown will continue to happen over and over again.
But evidence at home and abroad completely debases this claim. Take a lesson from Australia: after the country’s worst-ever mass shooting inspired a ban on assault rifles and tightened gun owner licensing in 1996, the number of homicides by guns has halved and there hasn’t been a single mass shooting since. An American is 40 times more likely to be killed by gunfire than an Englishman or Canadian, according to a Huffington Post article by Geoffrey Stone, a professor of law at the University of Chicago. Policies won’t completely eliminate gun violence from our country, but they can go a long way towards reducing it.
In recent years, Congress has shied away from gun control legislation in large part because such measures have not been popular with the general public. This makes us, the citizens, responsible for urging our politicians to take meaningful action that regulates the distribution of guns. It takes no more than five minutes to email representatives in the Senate and the House of Representatives to achieve this end. Internet petitions make it easy to express support for gun control. Replicated on a national scale, such small actions may convince our politicians to push through gridlock, rise above petty politics and enact legislation that will make the U.S. a safer place to live.
The United States was built around a commitment to defending liberties. But there comes a point when our nation’s obsession with protecting rights keeps us from protecting lives. Americans are required by law to wear seat belts and are prohibited from driving while intoxicated, yet almost no one cries out that these are unjust intrusions on rights because it’s clear that they ultimately safeguard public welfare. In the case of gun ownership, one man’s liberty may cost another child’s life.