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UPDATED: December 26, 2012 Web Exclusive
Enough Is Enough
Why do so many Americans die from gun violence? The murder of schoolchildren in a Connecticut town brings new urgency to an old debate
By Corrie Dosh

SORROW: A child gazes from a school bus as it passes by the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church on December 18 in Newtown, Connecticut, while mourners gathered for a funeral service for a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (XINHUA/AFP)

With the horrifying massacre of 26 young children and their teachers in a Connecticut elementary school, Americans have taken up a now familiar argument over the role and rights of gun ownership in the United States. The wave of mass shootings--32 dead at Virginia Tech University, 13 dead at an army base in Texas, six at a political meet-and-greet in Arizona that left a prominent politician with brain damage, 12 dead and 58 wounded in a movie theater in Colorado--has led to a desperate public outcry for action, any action, that will protect the innocent.

The United States is an outlier among industrialized countries when it comes to gun violence. The Small Arms Survey, an independent research project based in Geneva, noted that only two countries it surveyed for its 2011 report on civilian firearm possession consider it a basic right--the United States and Yemen. And even Yemen has begun clamping down on the right for citizens to own guns. The United States, with 4.5 percent of the world's population, accounts for 40 percent of civilian firearms and the gun violence this year is set to surpass car accidents as the leading cause of preventable death. Americans die from guns at a rate 20 times higher than other industrialized nations.

For many Americans, however, gun ownership is an essential constitutional right along with free speech, voting, religion and capitalism. A 2011 Gallup poll found that 47 percent of U.S. households had at least one gun. Proponents often say: "Guns don't kill people--people kill people." The Second Amendment, proposed by the founding fathers after a bloody revolution against a foreign power, allows communities to form militias and for citizens to bear arms to protect themselves from their own government. Without that, proponents say, the United States could fall into fascism and an all-powerful government could trample the rights of the individual.

The founding fathers could not possibly have imagined what the right to "bear arms" would mean in 2012. The killer of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims carried three weapons: a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle capable of firing 45 rounds per minute and two handguns. All were legally obtained by the shooter's mother, who was the first victim on that bloody day in Connecticut. This time, the call for restrictions on gun rights has become even louder, owing to the young age of the victims and the frequency that these tragedies have occurred over the past few years. This time, say advocates, enough is enough. Something has to be done.

President Barack Obama pledged he would submit new gun-control proposals to Congress next month to reduce gun violence and that he would make the issue a key part of his second term. Vice President Joe Biden will head up a task force of legislators and outside consultants to submit a "very specific" set of proposals. First on the list is the renewal of a federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.

"There is a big chunk of space between what the Second Amendment means and having no rules at all," Obama said. "... The NRA [National Rifle Association] is an organization that has members who are mothers and fathers, and I would expect that they've been impacted by this as well."

The National Rifle Association--the foremost pro-gun lobby in the nation--has said little since the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, reducing its presence on social media and issuing a statement pledging to "offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again." And several prominent pro-gun legislators have said they would support a new ban on assault weapons. A majority of conservative officials, however, have restated their firm opposition to new limits on guns or ammunition. Obama has said he supports renewing the ban and better mental healthcare programs as part of a solution to reducing mass shootings.

"This time, the words need to lead to action," Obama said. "I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like [Sandy Hook Elementary School]."

Part of those efforts include enlisting supporters to lobby on behalf of gun control. Fresh off of a successful election campaign, Obama has attempted to keep his supporters engaged on other initiatives, such as tax reform and the "fiscal cliff" of economic policy agreements set to expire in 2013. Obama has sought to harness the power of the army of volunteers and organizers that have kept him in office.

"I can't do it alone," he said in a video posted on the White House website. "I need your help. If we're going to succeed, it's going to take a sustained effort from mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, law enforcement and responsible gun owners, organizing, speaking up, calling their members of Congress as many times as it takes, standing up and saying enough on behalf of all our kids. That's how change happens."

Obama has also called on responsible gun owners to support new regulations, saying there is a way to support the rights of the individual with the protection of the public at large. Part of the challenge is the lack of data on the link between gun ownership and the rate of violent crimes. The National Research Council, under the National Academies, in 2005 said they found no credible evidence that laws permitting Americans to carry guns had decreased or increased violent crime, nor kept weapons out of criminal hands. Yet the group admitted they lacked data, saying they "do not know exactly who owns what kinds of firearms or how the owners use them."

With strong public support, proponents of gun control say they are optimistic that this time, meaningful legislation will be passed restricting the proliferation of guns in America. As non-stop coverage of funerals continues from the tragedy in Connecticut, a tipping point may have been reached.

"This is our first task--caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right. That's how, as a society, we will be judged," said Obama at a memorial for the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. "And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children--all of them--safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we're all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?"

"I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no," Obama added. "We're not doing enough. And we will have to change."

The author is a freelance writer living in New York City

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