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We can’t put off tougher gun laws any longer

Updated: February 19, 2013 2:20PM

President Barack Obama’s speech­writers nailed it Wednesday, at least for me, with two little sentences.

“This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we’ll be judged,” the president said.

That’s it. That’s the thought that has troubled me more than anything since the Newtown school massacre — and maybe you as well.

What a sad, sick world we have created for our children.

We have failed them in this most basic test of a civilized people: keeping them safe. And everything is trending toward an even bleaker future for them, with more violence, not less.

This is how we’ll be judged years from now, long after I’ve left this earth. We were a society that couldn’t even protect its children.

What may have been even worse is that instead of reacting to these latest killings with outrage and with resolve to try to do something about it, I was left with a feeling of hopelessness.

Having seen tragedies like this so often now, I was convinced that not even the bodies of 20 dead first-graders would convince this country to try a new course and re-consider its love affair with guns.

Then, as a further measure of our illness, the first response of the nation’s gun lobby to this mass murder was to argue the case for even more guns instead of fewer. An armed guard in every school, they urged. That’s the ticket.

But in the past few weeks, something seems to have stirred in the American consciousness to suggest I was wrong and that the gun defenders are out of step. Maybe we are finally ready to turn a corner.

Obama, who until now has been reluctant to risk any political capital challenging our gun culture, sensed the national shift, too, (of course, he has pollsters for that) and took the lead Wednesday on the biggest gun-control push in decades.

He said he will need everyone’s help if there is to be a change. I want to do my part.

As the president said, we can’t put it off any longer.

The violence problem is about more than just guns, I realize, but guns are a good place to start.

Obama proposed a new assault weapons ban and mandatory background checks for all gun buyers.

Will those laws make a major difference?

Maybe not, especially with so many weapons already in circulation and with handguns being the primary killer on our urban streets. But it’s a start that might cut down on the mass shootings, and just as importantly, it could set a new national tone while we work harder to find other ways to reduce the killing.

If the president is going to succeed in this effort, he won’t get there without the American mainstream backing him up in Congress, where supporters of gun rights will continue to portray any attempt to pose commonsense limits on guns as an attack on the Constitution.

The president nodded to the rights of gun owners in his speech and appealed to responsible gun owners to join in this effort. He even threw in a little money for “resource officers” (security guards) for schools that want them.

But the NRA seems to have sensed the shift in public attitude as well, lashing out at the president with an outrageous television commercial dragging Obama’s daughters into the debate.

“Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” the commercial asks. “Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed security at their school?”

Is there anybody out there among the sane portion of the population who doesn’t believe that family members of the president of the United States live under an extreme security risk? Do you have any doubt that they are a “high-value target” for terrorists — not to mention your average American nutball, who would only be encouraged by such an ad campaign?

At the rate we’re going, we may soon create a society where everyone’s children face the same risk as the president’s. If so, our failure will be complete.

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