One of the country’s largest billboards is next to Fenway Park, facing the Massachusetts Turnpike. It has a giant number counter.
When I was running for the Senate, I passed that billboard nearly every week, sometimes three or four times in a single day. I always looked at the counter to see how it had changed since the last trip, counting the change — up two, six more, another one.
The counter is from Stop Handgun Violence, and it shows the number of children killed by guns in the United States. Every time I saw it I thought about another small coffin.
Over the past two years, more than 6,000 children have been killed by guns. The number jumped by twenty little children last Friday, and then it climbed on Saturday, on Sunday, and kept on climbing as other children died.
Like millions of people across this country, I was heartbroken by the news of Sandy Hook Elementary School. I don’t know how to explain their deaths, or to explain why six heroic teachers and staff members needed to make the ultimate sacrifice for their kids. And I don’t know how any of us explain what happened to our children and our grandchildren.
The ultimate causes of such tragedy are impossible to understand fully, but the difficulty of untangling all the elements is not an excuse for failing to do what we can to make our children safer. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our children to take the steps we can to stop the violence.
There may be no foolproof solution, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better.
As Mayor Tom Menino — co-founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns — said, “Now is the time for a national policy on guns that takes the loopholes out of the laws, the automatic weapons out of our neighborhoods and the tragedies like today out of our future.”
That’s why, when I get to the Senate, I will sign onto Senator Feinstein’s bill to re-instate a ban on assault weapons and other commonsense gun control measures.
I grew up in family that used guns. My older brothers hunted, and I learned to shoot when I was in grade school. I understand the role that hunting and guns play in many communities across the country. There can be a place for responsible gun ownership in our society.
But no one needs military-grade assault weapons to hunt, and no one needs Rambo-style high capacity magazines to protect their family from intruders.
The facts are simple: 83 Americans die every day from gun violence in America. Eight of those people are children or teenagers. Eight a day, every day — thousands a year, tens of thousands in the last decade.
If eight children were dying every day from a mysterious virus, our country would mobilize to put a stop to it. Gun violence is an epidemic that is taking our children’s lives in our schools, on our streets, and in our neighborhoods.
As with other epidemics, we must do everything we can to make a difference for people through prevention and treatment. We must renew our commitment to mental health care — to ensure that children and adults can receive both the physical and psychological health care they need in America.
And we must put in place commonsense gun laws and enforce those laws. Right now, 40% of gun sales are not subject to a federal background check because they are purchased privately at gun shows, online, or person-to-person. The Fix Gun Checks Act would close this huge loophole. We must look for other reasonable measures like this to protect our kids as we move forward.
Re-authorizing the assault weapons ban is a responsible first step that we can take now. Is that all we can do? Of course not. Is it a full solution that will stop all gun violence? No, but it is a start.
It is not possible to explain to our children what happened in Sandy Hook, but it is possible to make changes that will help keep them safer. We owe this to all our children.