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America, the great land of the free, is steadily becoming more defined by our violent culture

PMG FILE PHOTO - Tony Ahern, PublisherThe mass shootings, the rampant gun violence — collectively, it's an American tragedy. It's also a national embarrassment as we seem paralyzed, or unwilling, to do anything about it.

Maybe, just maybe, that's changing.

It's comforting, somewhat, to know that our federal representation has finally been slapped into understanding the need for movement. It took the most recent heart-wrenching tragedy — 19 elementary kids and two teachers murdered in Uvalde, Texas — to inspire an effort toward at least trying to address the issue. Both houses have taken up the topic of better protection against gun violence since the May 23, Uvalde incident. Especially hopeful is the Senate, where members of both parties are working on a bi-partisan bill, working together to forge one plan that 60 or more senators can get behind that could override a potential filibuster.

Democratic Senators, in general, are pushing to make it more difficult for those under 21 and those who might be enduring a mental health crisis to buy or have weapons at their disposal, especially the type of weapons most often utilized by mass shooters, such as AR-15s. Republicans generally reject all talk of "gun control" — any vote that can be described as pro-gun control would get a Republican candidate "primaried" nearly as fast as a Trump impeachment "yes" vote — but instead are focusing on better school security and mental health elements. There is pressure on both aisles to achieve something, so it makes for an interesting dance — and some optimism that something of substance might occur.

The elements that could likely emerge in a Senate bi-partisan bill include: extending background checks and closing web and show/private sales loopholes; increasing red-flag laws (making it possible to remove guns from a person who is suffering a mental health crisis); and funding for more mental health and school security measures. Many contend these elements could reach the 60-senator support level, which would mean all 50 Democrats and 10 Republicans supporting.

The Democratic-backed plank of raising the purchase age from 18 to 21, however, will be hard for GOP members to support.

In 2020, the federal government had the fortitude to make 21 the age to buy cigarettes in the United States. Apparently, it makes less sense (or is more politically difficult) to make 21 the age to buy an AR-15. Personally, I'd rather a disgruntled 19-year-old have access to a pack of Marlboros, but I'm not trying to maintain my "A" grade with the NRA.

The GOP focus on targeting the school security and mental health elements of the problem is sound. But that will take massive and ongoing commitment and funding to make a long-term impact. It's an expensive, potentially culture-altering policy that walks a tight rope of improved security versus transforming schools into protective fortresses that seem more like prisons than inspirational houses of education.

But improved mental health elements are generally supported by both parties and will likely be part of a federal response.

It would help the urgency to do something on this issue to make it less about gun control and more about addressing the mass shooter epidemic and, more precisely, the specific dangers to schools and children. That seems to be what's taking place. According to the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a quarter (25.1%) of mass shootings take place at schools, and the majority of those tragedies are perpetrated by young men under age 21. Overall, the majority of mass shootings take place at workplaces (29.4%). Theoretically, red flag laws might, potentially, address workplace shootings.

It seems like a pretty reasonable goal for our legislators: let's make it harder for those who generally perpetrate the mass shootings — men under 21 for school shootings and, for mass shootings overall, those suffering a mental health crisis — to obtain weapons. But in this current era, when working with the other political party can be dangerous to one's political future, it will be a great test. Taking the phrase "gun control" out of the debate, as realistically as possible, will help draw down the walls of partisanship.

Liberals and conservatives, urban and rural populations, we should all take a moment to breathe and contemplate our current situation with gun violence. All sane people despise these mass shootings that have marred modern America, and we can't deny that mass shootings are a uniquely American problem as nearly all of them occur in the United States. As a nation, we need to support the politicians ready to work together on this problem and turn a deaf ear to extremists on the right and left who would stand in the way of compromise that inches us closer to solutions.

The call, the desperate plea, to do something is not new or reactionary. It wasn't reactionary in 2012 after Sandy Hook, or in 2015 after Roseburg, or 2017 after Parkland and Las Vegas, or 2021 in El Paso, or now after Buffalo and Uvalde. It may be repetitive, but it isn't reactionary. Uvalde shook us to the core, but there were 10 more mass shootings across the country — collectively killing at least 12 and injuring at least 60 — just this past weekend.

America, the great land of the free, is steadily becoming more defined by our violent culture. That too is a tragedy. The embarrassment is doing nothing about it.


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