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Lisa Belkin Headshot

This Gun Control Fight Is Different Because It Is Being Led By Parents

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Almost from the moment the gunshots exploded though school hallways last month, we have been wondering if this was the one, the tipping point, the last straw that would finally bring change. After all, there had been so many other shootings, each followed by lamentations and pleas for action, and each soon forgotten.

This time though, things are looking very different.

Today President Obama introduced the most sweeping gun control legislation in decades. Yesterday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed new gun laws that make New York's the strictest in the nation.

And just as it is becoming clearer that this might be the start of real change, it is also clear what is making it so: this one is about parents and children.

In the days after Newtown, I wrote here in Parentry that this ghastly shooting is different from all the other ghastly shootings because it leaves parents no place to hide. Every single parent in America could put themselves in the that average Friday morning picture -- doing the mundane, routine, innocent thing and dropping a first grader off at school. I wondered whether this unvarnished, back-against-the-wall reality would finally galvanize parents to action.

It has.

We are being led, fittingly, by the parents of the slain students, who earlier this week created Sandy Hook Promise on the one month anniversary of the shooting, to create open dialogue and discussion. Its website asks readers to "sign" a promise that "This time there will be change."

On the same day, at a New Jersey gathering of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Michael Pohle, whose son died in the carnage at Virginia Tech said: "I'm just one member of a Virginia Tech family, Newtown has theirs, Aurora has theirs, Tucson has theirs, and now we're starting to come together."

Also standing up to be heard are the parents of the 500 people killed by guns in Chicago last year. And the parents of the three teens killed at Chardon High School in Ohio a little less than a year ago. And the thousands of parents in grassroots groups with names like "One Million Moms for Gun Control", who are planning rallies around the country in the coming weeks.

Parents have stood together and brought about change before in this country, but examples are rare. While any parent will tell you that becoming a parent changes how they see the world, that doesn't seem to translate into political action. And when it does, we reach different conclusions as to what a "parents' view" is.

For some the shooting at Newtown means they need more firepower to protect their families. That they should teach their kids to shoot. That armed guards are need in schools. They should patrol the local schools themselves.

What is different on the other side of the argument, though, is the clarity with which parents seeking gun control are doing so as parents. In that way they are reminiscent of the most successful of the few other parent-centric movements: Mothers Against Drunk Driving. MADD changed the conversation from the rights of drivers to have a good time on Saturday night to the rights of those they would maim and kill. And that is the only way this next parenting fight can be won. We must hold up photos of children lost to violence, we must say their names and keep it personal. We must make it as unforgivable to irresponsibly handle a gun as it is to drink behind the wheel.

Perhaps the clearest sign that parents have seized the gun control conversation comes from the NRA itself as the organization is talking about children too. Their most recent volley comes in a video calling the President "an elitest hypocrite" for being "skeptical" that more armed guards would keep children safer in schools when Sasha and Malia are under constant watch of the Secret Service. "Are the President's Kids More Important Than Yours?" the ad on nrastandfight.com asked (before it was taken down due to criticism). You can still view it here.

Once you get past the obscene suggestion that the Obama girls do not deserve public protection, and the ridiculous ancillary implication that the answer to gun violence is to have every child shadowed by the equivalent of a Secret Service agent, you are left with the fact that the gun conversation is now indisputably in the court of American parents.

Let's keep it there.

The President did that today, speaking in the White House before an audience that included parents of shooting victims, and reading letters youngsters had written asking his support for gun control. He then surrounded himself with those children while he signed 23 executive orders that were but a first step in an ambitious gun control agenda.

"This is the first task as a society," he said, "keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged."

He asked those who would protect children -- "parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, hunters and sportsmen, responsible gun owners" -- to turn their voices to Congress and "ask them what's more important, doing whatever it takes to get a -- a 'A' grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade?"

What's more important, indeed?