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Our View: Increase age to 21 to buy guns

Texas school shooting the tipping point to act on safety

We have approximately 400 million guns in this country. But being armed to the teeth isn’t making us safer. It’s turning this country into a patchwork of killing fields, with our most precious people – our children – most at risk.

What do we say after this latest school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead? From the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton with 13 people killed to where we are today. We have made minimal progress in protecting our children from gunmen.

It’s a helpless, sitting-duck kind of feeling. Which school district is next?

It’s a heart-wrenching déjà vu. We see the images of those killed at Robb Elementary School. Fourth-graders in soccer, baseball and cheerleading uniforms. Some holding honor roll certificates. Flowers, candles and balloons. Parents unable to contain their grief.

Then we go home and hold our own children just a little bit closer, for a few beats longer.

And as a nation, we are deeply sad.

Maybe this moment is the tipping point, when we mobilize and do something substantive. Because in the end, whether we own a firearm or an arsenal or no weapon at all, we want to protect our loved ones. This is our deep evolutionary need, our commonality. How do we become a force of unity that results in fewer children dying?

Let’s start with gun safety. Bump up the age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21. Teen brains develop in a way where the reasoning part forms last. Teens are predictably impulsive. Give them a few years before they’re allowed to purchase weapons. In no way would this limitation erode the Second Amendment.

Teen gunmen murdered students at Columbine, Red Lake, Sandy Hook, Umpqua, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, Santa Fe and now Robb Elementary. Teens can’t legally buy a beer but can purchase assault weapons? This makes no sense. (Yes, 18-year-olds can join the military; they are highly trained, too.) Increasing the age buys more time for developing brains before young people can get their hands on AR-15s. This would be an easy change.

The “hardening” of schools leaves room for human error, particularly in basing more police officers at schools and arming teachers. We already have cops on campuses and they’re not always on alert to meet an active shooter. Too much risk in arming teachers – something could go deadly wrong. Another idea, retrofitting schools with bulletproof glass doesn’t seem likely or that helpful.

The killers have something else in common. They had been bullied, stressed, depressed or had faced disciplinary action at school. “Softening” schools with double the number of mental health professionals is a better investment than “hardening” schools. Counselors would identify and intercept problems as they surface.

Although some GOP lawmakers are still mum on gun safety after the killings in Uvalde, we are demanding action. Their arrogance is off the chart. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, stormed off after a British journalist asked why mass shootings happen “only in America.” And Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. When asked how his constituents would react if he supported any form of gun control, Cramer said, “Most would probably throw me out of office.” Clearly, they’re most concerned about their own hides.

We created our reality, here in the United States. We’ve effectively elevated the rights of an individual over everyone else. This isn’t freedom. It’s become mass murder. We’re living with the worst that can happen in families – losing our boys and girls. Our future.

We’re not yet sensing a shift in sentiment toward actionable safety from those in positions of power. It’s our job to relentlessly lift up solutions around gun safety. It’s the least we can do for our children.