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Michael Roth Headshot

The Status Quo Is Unacceptable: Choose to Act

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The images and firsthand accounts from Newtown during the last few days have been wrenching. The specter of vicious violence turned against the very young makes us gasp for breath, makes us question the very fabric of our society. If this kind of thing can erupt in communities like ours, what kind of community are we?

There is another image from Newtown that is powerful in a different kind of way: the image of teachers rushing into harm's way to protect their students, to protect their school. The care and courage of principal Dawn Hochsprung, who hid others before rushing to confront the gunman, is staggering, is inspirational. In the face of violence she chose to act. We should be motivated by her example.

Just a few years ago my university was deeply scarred by gun violence when student Johanna Justin-Jinich was brutally slain while working in the bookstore cafe. At the commencement that followed that awful event, I asked our students to join in working to curb gun violence:

The second area where we need your help is gun control. I know many regard this as a lost cause because of the passionate effectiveness of the NRA. But it is only a lost cause if we give up. Johanna's murder should remind us all of the idiocy of our handgun regulations. The status quo is unacceptable. With more than 30,000 people dying annually from gun violence in this country, and with more than 12,000 murders committed with guns, we need you to help us enter the world of nations governed by laws, not by violence. Debates about the 2nd Amendment and about the glories of hunting need not stifle reasonable law aimed at reducing violent deaths.

Reasonable law aimed at reducing violent deaths. Is that too much to ask? We know there are policies that have worked elsewhere -- in Australia, Japan, Great Britain. We will be told that these places are very different from us, and they are. That is no excuse. We should demand that our representatives enact (at a minimum) restrictions on ammunition and on automatic firearms. And we need to act immediately.

If we falter, if we think the politics too difficult or too complicated, we should remember Johanna, and we should remember Dawn. Their care and courage should inspire us to move our country to a place where students don't have to face wild-eyed gunmen, and where teachers don't have to lay down their lives defending their schools.