Hartford Courant
December 23, 2012
By John Larson

The harrowing and heartbreaking events of Newtown have left the state of Connecticut and the nation reeling from shock and grief. The tragic and senseless deaths of 20 schoolchildren and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School are forcing us to re-examine how we protect our children. How is it possible that daily deaths from mass shootings in cities and suburbs have now become an acceptable norm?

To do nothing in the face of continuous assaults on our children is to be complicit in those assaults. There may not be a panacea for the violence in our nation, but we must start the process and begin the longer and tougher conversations that need to take place.

The President was clear and the dialogue is now engaged, politics be damned. The time to act is now. In the aftermath of this slaughter of innocents, there isn't a single parent in America or around the world who hasn't thought to themselves: Enough is enough.

Requiring universal background checks for people purchasing guns and ammunition, and banning assault weapons and high capacity clips won't be enough. A comprehensive look at the systems that are in place to protect our children – including our mental health and youth violence programs – is a must.

We need to make sure that we're providing the resources at the federal and local level, as well as ensuring that we're taking a complete look at our mental health system and closing the gaps that have been identified by both Democrats and Republicans. The bottom line is that it should not be harder to access mental health services than it is to procure an assault weapon.

A mass shooting on this scale garners widespread attention and reminds us of how vulnerable we are to such attacks. But we should also remember that there are untold numbers of children in urban centers both here in Connecticut and across the country that live with the daily threat of gun violence, and this often goes unacknowledged.

Every day those living in Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven see the devastating effects that violence and youth violence have in their communities. Even as Connecticut's overall crime rate decreases, our cities continue to have high rates of shootings, particularly among young people. We must find ways to prevent these acts of violence, and look at the effectiveness of programs and initiatives currently in place. Even though this process may seem painful to some, it doesn't compare to the pain of losing a child.

In the current and past Congresses, my colleague Representative Bobby Scott (VA) has introduced the Youth PROMISE Act. This act seeks to develop a comprehensive response to youth violence through a coordinated prevention and intervention response, particularly in communities that face the toughest youth gang and crime challenges.

What we need is an all-encompassing approach to crime prevention. It requires building coalitions of local law enforcement, school officials, court services, social services, health and mental health providers, foster care providers, and other community and faith-based organizations to develop a plan for implementing evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies.

Nothing can change the tragic events of last week. But we can do everything in our power to prevent the loss of future life, whether as legislators, parents, or concerned citizens. There is no one answer to prevent future tragedies, but tougher gun laws, more robust community involvement and easier access to mental health services are areas where we can start. Congress needs to act or be complicit, but all Americans share this responsibility, and as such we should all work together – for ourselves and for our children.