Americans upset by gun violence need to stop asking "What can we do?" and start doing something.
Here's an idea: Show up in Washington on Inauguration Day, Jan. 21, with signs and banners. Dress your children in black. Demand three changes: Extensive background checks for every gun buyer; a 90-day cooling off period for all gun purchases; and a ban on handguns, semi-automatic weapons and large-supply magazines.
Journalists by the hundreds will be searching for news, so let's give it to them in the form of parents and children protesting peacefully. (You don't even need to pull the kids out of school -- it's Martin Luther King Jr. Day.) The swearing-in of the first African-American president grabbed the headlines four years ago, but this time the story should focus on the public rising up to say that he's been gutless on guns while Congress has been cowed.
We all know that millions of guns are already out there, and at this point any legislation would make only a small difference. Still, we need to try. New York City managed to outlaw big sodas; children's Motrin and Tylenol were recalled even though no one was injured. Surely we cannot keep ignoring an epidemic that kills more than 30,000 Americans every year.
When I emailed this idea and posted it on social media, it resonated. Friends offered to arrange transportation to Washington. Strangers volunteered to coordinate trips of church and synagogue youth groups.
Inauguration is also the time to call for restoring state and local cuts to mental health agencies. Andrew Malekoff, executive director of the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, on Long Island, wrote me that his group hasn't received an increase in funding in 25 years, despite a surge in clients. This year, in fact, his budget was slashed. "More children suffer from psychiatric illness than autism, leukemia, diabetes and AIDS combined," he said, "but only one of five with emotional disturbance gets help from a mental health specialist."
As it happens, others frustrated by these killings have been searching for the right place to start.
"We need a demonstration that's assertive without being aggressive, unrelenting without being angry," said my former high school teacher, Vic Leviatin, of White Plains, NY, who runs a nonprofit group that brings experiential education to schools.
He suggested marching to Washington, emulating Gandhi's two-week, 240-mile march in 1930 to break the British monopoly on salt. But I doubt I can get iPhone-addicted kids to walk to the local mall, much less the Mall.
In my postings, I noted that I'm not anti-gun, just anti-stupidity. When I was 21 and living in Florida, colleagues took me skeet shooting. I enjoyed pointing an ancient shotgun to the sky and destroying clay pigeons in mid-flight. Later, when I lived in Texas, my neighbors treated me to their fresh-killed venison.
None of these folks needed or wanted a handgun, or a semi-automatic or automatic weapon. Or high-capacity cartridges. Never.
We've gotten unhelpful advice about how to react to the massacres in Newtown, Aurora and elsewhere. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee implied that we just need to be more Christian. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy initially urged others to "hug someone we love a little tighter." But that doesn't bring about change. (Two days after the killings, Malloy did recommend gun restrictions.)
Prepare your kids, pack your armbands, paint "Enough!" on placards. See you in Washington on Jan. 21 for the inauguration of a movement.
Dave Marcus is author of Acceptance, a book about college admissions. He can be reached through www.DaveMarcus.com and at SensibleDad@gmail.com