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Stopping gun violence starts with discussion

To honor the memories of those killed in Connecticut one year ago, we can do as the victims’ families have asked: work to make our society safer for all

Ann Braden founded Gun Sense Vermont, a grassroots organization working to get the gun-violence conversation going in Vermont. She serves as the organization’s lead organizer. This piece is adapted from remarks she gave at Saturday’s vigil at Pliny Park in Brattleboro to commemorate the Sandy Hook shootings.

Brattleboro

One year ago, the shooter was walking into Sandy Hook Elementary School.

It is still so raw. As the news reports came in, I know all of us were left cycling through disbelief, anger, and deep, deep sadness. We were taken to our knees.

It was as if it had happened to our own family. And in a sense, it had. It was a tragedy so horrible that suddenly it didn’t matter what state someone lived in or what house. The walls that separate us came down, and all that was important was that we were part of one human family.

And it was clear that as the adults in this human family, we had failed. That there could be no more important task than protecting our children. That those teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary had done so, but that it we shouldn’t be in a situation where teachers, among their hundreds of responsibilities to help raise our children, should also have to grapple with defending their students from gunfire.

It was clear that our society had fallen far out of balance in regards to gun violence and that something had to be done to right it again.

And then leaders stepped forward. People who were offering to lead us forward in love and compassion. And they were the people who were hurting the most — the families of the victims.

* * *

I am filled with hope that we can all come together and find common ground for reducing gun violence. Not just the now-all-too-common mass killings, but the much-more-common gun accidents, suicides, and homicides that plague our state and country.

We don’t want our society to be one in which something like this shooting can happen. We want to be a society where someone struggling will reach out to others for help, where people are willing to work together to solve problems, and where we all do our best to live with kindness and gentleness.

By coming together this weekend to commemorate the anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we have helped to shift our society toward that goal.

* * *

The Sandy Hook families are asking everyone to have the conversation about how to reduce gun violence. We need to begin with the things we all have in common, instead of starting from polarized points.

One way to honor the victims is to pledge to do one act of kindness for each victim lost at Sandy Hook Elementary. It can be as simple as holding the door for someone or letting a stranger go in front of you in line. But bit by bit, these acts will help shift our world to a kinder and gentler place.

A GunSenseVT member from up in Orange County forwarded me an op-ed that her good friend had written. Her friend’s brother-in-law was killed in a random shooting at a mall in Oregon. This is her message.

1. Love fiercely, because there are no guarantees.

2. Create hope where none exists.

3. Honor teachers, because they give their lives for children.

4. Every life matters.

5. Make some noise.

Let’s dedicate ourselves to strive for the better world that the Sandy Hook families have envisioned. Let us help them turn tragedy into transformation.

Let’s help them make Newtown, Conn. a place that is remembered, because that is where real change began.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #234 (Wednesday, December 25, 2013). This story appeared on page D1.

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