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March 28, 2015

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How much worse does it have to get?

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Another 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 about gun violence, and the costs of that were tragic.

Just weeks after we said “never again,” worshippers 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 Barack 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 press 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 also will be of little value to the 48,000 Americans who will be murdered by guns during Obama’s second term.

We need our nation’s lawmakers to begin a conversation about 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 about 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?

Stephen Barton works for the bipartisan coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He wrote this for the Hartford Courant.

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  1. This is not yet the time to discuss guns and culture of violence in the USA. It's time for mourning and prayers. After, is the time for addressing the problems that cause evil murderous incidents like that at Sandy Hook Elementary and 38 other such incidents in the USA since 1974.