12/21/2012 02:50 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2013

Gun Violence Hurts Everybody, As It Should

Children should not live in fear of famine, neglect, abuse or homicide.

But today, in 21st Century America, we have entered a terrifying new reality where monsters have slipped through the cracks of our open society and have taken us hostage. And we, as the adults and leaders, must do something to stop this madness. We must change our public policies, and hold cowardly politicians accountable. We must pay more attention to mental illness. And we must give our children the protection they need and require as vulnerable human beings.

As the strongest, richest country in the world, this basic promise of safety and security is the least that we can do for our kids and for future generations of Americans. Instead, we collectively mourn the tragic death of innocent kids and a few courageous adults mowed down at an elementary school weeks before Christmas.

How is it that we are even talking about first grade kids being brutally murdered at school? When did this unraveling begin? When did little boys and girls become sitting ducks for some assault-weapon-wielding maniac?

And when did Americans become afraid to speak up, fearful of pushing for changes that truly are a matter of life and death?

When I was growing up, my parents did not worry that their children would be shot and killed, like trapped prey, in the safe confines of our local elementary school. We walked to school. We played outdoors. We were safe.

Still, even as children, we knew the larger world was a dangerous place. We worried about things like the Soviet Union, the Cold War, nuclear bombs, and the foreign military threat to America.

We knew those threats were thousands of miles away - not over on the next block. And not in the classroom. And we trusted that the adults were grappling with and trying to solve these problems.

All children are afraid of boogeymen. I cringe remembering movies such as "Night of the Living Dead" and hiding under our desks in a cold war drill. I had nightmares over scary movies and a nuclear holocaust for years.

Today, America is living through a national nightmare. But that nightmare isn't a movie. And it's not on foreign soil. It is here, at home, in our schools, in our malls, in our movie theaters, on our streets.

The nightmare began with the all-too-easy access that Americans have to assault weapons, which originally were made for use solely by the military and the police. It began with the unchecked power of the national gun lobby. It began when our legislators and members of Congress became more concerned about receiving the NRA seal of approval and campaign contribution checks than their own communities.

We need to take back our country and rein in the gun lobby and other special interests that threaten the safety of our kids. Because, as President Obama told the residents of Newtown, Connecticut, at a heartwrenching vigil, "What choice do we have? Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

American society has been numb to the growing problem of gun violence for too long. We pretended its not been that bad, and won't get worse, but our denial of symptoms and quest to be pain free has taken a toll. Pills for aches and despair are sold to us ad nauseum, but there is no prescription drug to mask the societal disease of mass shootings.

The gunman responsible for the Newtown murders was reported to be literally numb. He could not feel pain. The teacher who ran the technology club of which he was a member in high school had to make sure soldering tools and other potentially dangerous electrical equipment didn't burn him. The heinous crimes he committed can not be explained, but numbness to pain is telling.

If we are going to change, it's going to hurt a little, and we can tough it out if we allow ourselves to see the humanity in the eyes of our neighbors and political adversaries, and feel their pain.

The national dialogue has to throw off the wet blanket of "Democrats versus the NRA." There is more to this country than faceless machines.

Corporations are not people, and neither is the NRA. Blaming a big powerful association for the mass murder of Newtown children and their principle is convenient because true answers are nowhere in sight, but it's people who are guaranteed constitutional rights, and people who commit atrocious crimes.

And it will only be courageous people who take meaningful steps to curb gun violence in America -- people who disagree about politics, people who belong to the NRA, and people who don't. We need everyone at the table talking about a way forward that does not include mass shootings, because there is one thing we can all agree on - it wasn't the kids' fault that they were shot and killed in Sandy Hook.

From this common ground, this fundamental belief in the need to protect innocent children, let's begin a national conversation about how to prevent a tragedy of this magnitude from ever happening again. In Maine, lets have the courage to speak up with empathy of our neighbors from north and south. Let's reject the oversimplification of the right versus left, rural versus urban, liberal versus conservative script. It's obvious the rhetoric of the past is not working -- we are not more free, or more safe.