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Editorial: Another massacre of innocent children. Will this time be different?

APTOPIX Texas School Shooting (copy)

Kladys Castellón prays during a vigil Tuesday for the victims of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

We’ve sadly been here before.

A gunman killed 19 children and two adults Tuesday in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. It’s the deadliest school shooting since 20 children and six adults were shot to death in the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012.

After these and other attacks, we ask ourselves: Is this the moment when things change?

There’s still a lot we don’t know about this latest horrific act of violence. But we must guard against falling into the familiar cycle of initial shock, calls for changes in gun laws, politicians promising action, growing resistance to any reform and eventually a return to “normal” the further we get from the event.

In other words, back to square one. Until the next time.

Part of the problem is the nation’s inability to have an intelligent, reasonable debate about almost anything today. Misinformation, ill-informed opinions and partisan talking points harden positions and distract from the need to find common ground and address gun violence. Too many politicians and others offer thoughts and prayers and then use these tragedies to score political points, and raise money, with extreme positions that appeal to their bases.

We need to have an honest and robust discussion about what we can do as a nation to prevent such terrible acts.

There are laws that should help prevent the wrong people from obtaining guns, and they must be rigorously enforced. But we hear time and again about people who slipped through the cracks before committing their crimes. Criminals often illegally buy guns or steal them, sometimes from unlocked vehicles. Others obey all the laws and still become killers.

Clearly, we can’t rely solely on the goodness of human nature to keep our children safe at school or rely on current laws to curb gun violence.

We have long advocated for commonsense reforms such as strengthening the background check system, closing the so-called Charleston loophole and enacting red flag laws. School officials and local police also need to reexamine what they can reasonably do to help protect children, teachers and staff members.

These are far from draconian measures, but we live in a zero-sum political climate, where the mantra is I’d rather fight than compromise, so even these proposals haven’t garnered the necessary bipartisan support. Elected officials must meet their moral obligation to enact laws that help keep us safe. 

Sensible gun reforms don’t put us on a slippery slope of banning all guns, with government agents in dark vans coming to take away weapons, as irresponsible conspiracy theorists suggest. The Second Amendment makes possible the great American traditions of hunting and shooting sports, and we have a right to defend ourselves, our homes and our families. But a nation awash in guns where children are being shot do death in their classrooms needs better guardrails. 

Will the shooting in Uvalde finally be the tipping point that makes that possible? We thought Sandy Hook would spur our nation to act, and we dared to hope for meaningful change after the Emanuel AME Church killings and the Parkland school massacre and other mass shootings that shocked our  conscience. Maybe this time really will be different.

For that to happen, however, we need thoughtful conversations instead of partisan bickering. We need to do the hard but necessary work of finding common ground on achievable actions that help protect children and adults. And we need to stop reducing gun violence to just another culture war issue. All of this could help chart a clear, navigable path to safer schools and a safer country.

Until we do these things, we’ll likely find ourselves here again, mourning the loss of innocent lives and trying to comfort the devastated families they leave behind. That’s more than sad. It’s tragic.

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