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Eva M. Clayton Headshot

Together We Must Show Leadership for Safe Schools and Communities

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For many young people across America, especially in communities of color, gun violence is sadly a normal way of life. In both urban and rural cities and towns from Henderson, NC or Laredo, TX to Chicago or South Central Los Angeles our young people too often die as a result of gun violence. While the massacre of elementary-aged students and a few dedicated adults in Newtown, CT is a national tragedy, we should see it as one example of the failure of our nation's policymakers to be serious about gun safety.

Shortly after the Newtown tragedy, President Barack Obama directed Vice President Joseph Biden to lead an interagency effort to develop "a multifaceted approach... to preventing mass shootings in the future." This is welcomed leadership on a critical issue affecting thousands of lives each year. Consider these facts: There are 129,817 federally licensed firearms in the United States, the most heavily armed country compared to other democratic and industrialized countries, with close to 89 guns for every 100 Americans. In the UK, on the other hand, there are just six guns per 100 citizens.

What's more, every day 87 people die from gun violence. In 2011, my state of North Carolina reported 335 deaths by firearms, which represents an increase of 17 percent over the previous year. This is simply unacceptable -- and we need to take action to ensure these statistics improve and to ensure the safety of our children. With that in mind, it is my sincere hope that Vice President Biden's effort will result in bringing a wide spectrum of our electorate, including those who hold the Second Amendment as sacrosanct, closer together as a community focused on safety first and will ultimately help us all accept that having more guns does not ensure our security and freedom as a nation. As the vice p resident pulls together his team, the focus should be on gun safety and the tangential issues that are part and parcel to increased gun violence.

The Second Amendment should not be used as a deterrent to finding ways to make gun ownership more secure for our society. Our goal must be to reduce the likelihood of future shootings and tragedies. I believe most gun owners, especially our sportsmen, respect and welcome reasonable gun safety regulations and background checks. They understand that a handgun or rifle in the hands of the wrong person is the difference between controlled security and uncontrolled violence and terror.

However, the onus is not on the gun lobby alone. Individually and collectively we will need to make a commitment to examining the role of mental health, our fascination with violent entertainment on television as well as in movies and video games, as the root cause of gun violence in cities and towns across America. For that reason, the approach by the administration must be holistic, engaging all interests to identify actionable goals toward gun safety.

Hopefully, as Americans we will do more than just talk, and will demonstrate a commitment of working together for the common good, of a more safe and more secure neighborhood, community and nation. We need to emerge from our reflection with renewed determination to address the challenges of the tragic and horrific act of violence which occurred in Newtown. We all pray that the loss of lives of those young, innocent children and those dedicated adults will be honored by serious dialogue and as a result concrete action by our elected officials to prevent more mass shootings from becoming a regular occurrence.

Now is the time for all citizens to come together to find a policy solution that makes us all a little safer. Let's not wait for another violent shooting by an unstable or violent person wielding an assault weapon to take and destroy more innocent lives. As citizens, we have to play our parts by holding our elected and organizational leaders accountable. The SOS is clear: we must begin this dialogue and take action now.

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