The slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School will forever be regarded as one of the saddest consequences of America’s unbridled acceptance of guns in our culture. Let it be a turning point, too.
As a pediatrician, I am troubled that our country does not assure adequate resources to identify and intervene for troubled young people. As a mother, I am devastated that there is truly no safe community for my two young girls. We are all asking why. While there never will be a satisfying answer, now is the time to talk about the things we know, and should not accept.
We live in a society that celebrates violence. Children spend their formative years listening to music, watching movies and playing video games that contribute to aggressive behavior and normalization of violence.
We spend hundreds of billions of dollars on the military, yet skimp on education, health care, and support for mental health services.
The one unifying thread tying every massacre together, including at least seven mass shootings in 2012, is guns. In 2010, the number of people who died from firearms in the United States totaled 31,672. That’s 86 people, four of them children, each and every day.
Many believe that guns will keep us safe and insist on keeping discussion about their limits off the table. In our own state, we pediatricians actually had to fight for the right to speak with our patients about access to guns, a right — and responsibility — our state Legislature tried to take away because lawmakers cannot say no to the gun lobby.
Some say talking about gun legislation following a tragedy such as this one is opportunistic and political. But this is a life and death safety issue. With each mass shooting, the call to action is clearer and more urgent. Perhaps in these times, those who are indifferent on the issue will be more likely to realize they must take a stand, too. We owe it to the innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary.
The murder of 20 elementary school children and six adults is now branded onto our collective consciousness, and our national responsibility. If kids can’t be safe at school, we must find a way to ensure they are. That means we have to talk about guns. We have to talk about them today and tomorrow and next week and in the months to come. This is how a nation cares for its children.
We need to make sure that sensible gun legislation becomes a priority. We must demand that our politicians not be intimidated from taking real action. We need President Obama to lead the way.
Enough is enough.
Julia Belkowitz Lichtentstein, M.D., is assistant regional dean for student affairs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.