Next week, children across the country will enjoy a break for the holidays. Families will come together, sharing meals and moments of laughter.
For two-dozen families in Newtown, Connecticut, this holiday, and holidays for years to come, will not be as joyous. Presents will be left unopened, future hopes and dreams left unfulfilled.
The void they will feel is unimaginable to most of us. The moments that families look forward to – the soccer games and school dances, the graduations and weddings, the years of meaningful life and lasting memories – will not come.
Seeing the photos of these children, children who look like our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and cousins and friends, is heartbreaking. You can't read their names or hear their stories without welling up with tears.
This is not how it's supposed to be in America. Our schools, our churches, our grocery stores and movie theaters and street corners are not supposed to be constant reminders of the tragedies that happened there. Our children are not supposed to be forever scarred by the deaths of their schoolmates, our parents devastated by the loss of their babies.
Some will say that it's too early to address gun violence in America. For the 27 people who were killed on Friday, it's too late. For the victims of an ever-growing list of shooting tragedies in America – Aurora, Tucson, Binghamton, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and many other places – it's too late. For the 34 Americans that were shot and killed with guns on Friday, and the 12,000 Americans that were murdered with guns over the past year, it's too late.
We often see incredible courage displayed in these tragedies. I saw it in many of the heroes I met from the Tucson shooting last year that claimed 6 lives, and left 13 people injured, including former Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords (D-Ariz.). And we've seen it again in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School – the stories of the principal who lost her life attempting to stop the shooter and the teachers who died protecting their students. In moments of pain and tragedy, these stories remind us of the best qualities of the human spirit: courage in the face of danger, goodness in the face of evil.
One can hope that our political leaders will demonstrate an ounce of this courage, that they'll finally put the safety of their constituents over the interests of the gun lobby. Following these tragedies, politicians often offer a moment of silence to the families. But their silence is part of the problem. We need our leaders to speak up and propose real solutions to stop these tragedies. We cannot wait for the next shooting massacre to hit the headlines before we finally have a serious conversation and take concrete action to curb gun violence in America.
There are common sense steps we can take now to keep guns out of dangerous hands. In more than 30 states, individuals with a criminal record or history of mental illness can walk into a gun shop and buy as many guns as they want without a background check. This is unacceptable. There should be a background check on every gun sale in America. Additionally, we need to strengthen our background check system. As of October 2011, 23 states had submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to the national background check system, leaving dangerous, gaping holes. There is no excuse for this negligence, and both state governments and federal agencies must work together to ensure all mental health records are submitted to the national database.
There is no panacea that will end all gun violence in this country. America is the most heavily armed nation in the world, and as a result – contrary to the false claims that "more guns will make us safer" – our country experiences the greatest number of gun deaths. But the proposals outlined above, and included in the Fix Gun Checks Act (S.436), will make it harder for people with criminal records or mental illnesses to obtain deadly weapons, while still respecting the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens. In fact, these proposals enjoy widespread support among gun owners and NRA members, so let's end the delay in implementing them. We can't allow another year to go by, and another 12,000 American lives to be lost, before we take real action on this issue.
So this holiday, let's hold our loved ones tighter and tell them how much we love them. But let's also resolve to fight for the families who have lost someone this year and in past years to gun violence and let’s work to stop these tragedies from claiming more innocent lives in the future.
This article originally appeared on The Future Forum.