When a tragedy strikes, it is human nature for us to ask, "Why?" And in the next breath, we wonder, "What can be done so this never will happen again?"

Those certainly were among my thoughts Friday when I heard that someone had burst into an elementary school in Connecticut and murdered 26 people. Among them were 20 young children -- children who were there to learn about their world and to develop friendships.

This time it was in Connecticut. Before that it was in Portland, Ore., and Aurora, Colo., and Milwaukee and at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech.

And in Tucson.

On Friday, as I watched television, I saw the looks on the faces of those parents in Connecticut. And I wished I had the answer that could stop all of this and make sure it never happens again.

As a grandfather and a member of Congress, I have a responsibility to speak up for those families and families like them across the country.

On Friday in Tucson, police were at my grandchildren's school as a precautionary measure. It was an important action to ensure their safety, but nonetheless scared my little ones and their parents. We must not stand by and let our children be put in harm's way again.

Sadly, those of us in Tucson understand what the people of Newtown are going through today and what lies ahead. We know that it is impossible to make sense of the senseless. And we know that in the end, a community tragedy such as this has the potential to bring people closer together in the common search for answers.

I don't have all the answers. There is no single law that we can write, no single regulation that we can impose, no single process that we can put in place that will address the many problems that come together to cause such a horrifying tragedy.

But some of the pieces are laid out before us.

I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms -- but we must take action to deal with the easy availability of assault weapons and extended magazines.

We must take action to prevent people who are a danger to themselves and others from getting access to these weapons.

We must not wait any longer to address this crisis. But we must also recognize that these issues are not the only pieces in a complex problem to which there is no single answer.

Untreated serious mental illness and access to weapons with heavy firepower are the underlying causes in a number of these violent incidents. It is well-known now that this is what caused the tragic January 2011 shooting near Tucson in which six people were killed and 13 others -- including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and me -- were injured.

Information is emerging about the mental health of the Connecticut gunman. It is irresponsible to dismiss untreated mental illness as a factor in several recent mass shootings. We have it within our power as a nation to resolve these issues. It is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of people dealing with mental illness are not violent.

After I was wounded almost two years ago, I took steps to address the mental-health issue head-on. My family and I founded the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, and our first priority was to increase community awareness and to remove the stigma that prevents many people from getting treatment for a mental illness.

This year, I co-sponsored the Mental Health First Aid Higher Education Act, which would provide training to help people identify and respond to signs of mental illness and deal with psychiatric crises. The bill did not pass this year, but I am committed to reintroducing it next session. We also must protect state and federal funding for mental-health services.

There are many other factors that can produce a violent tragedy. But we do know that the availability of certain weapons coupled with mental illness is a recipe for disaster.

Our president said Friday that we must come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this -- regardless of politics.

I agree and we must take action now, together, as a national community. We cannot wait.

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., represents Congressional District 8, succeeding Gabrielle Giffords, who stepped down in January to focus on her recovery. He had served as her district director. Barber was shot in the cheek and leg in the 2011 Tucson-area massacre.

(Editor's Note: The editorial was first submitted by Ron Barber to the Arizona Republic, which ran the story on Sunday.)

(2) comments

John J Flanagan

A dialogue on the subject is worthwhile. As for untreated mental illness, a psychiatrist recently called Rush Limbaugh, a woman with 30 years experience in treating potentially violent patients. She noted that the lawyers of our day have often used the courts to get such patients from being committed for observation and needed treatment. She has seen this scenario played out over and over in her practice. Laws to protect the patient keep them from treatment and the result is often violence against their family members or others. That is one part of the equation. The other part, which most liberals are unable to grasp, involves the idea that some people are just evil, wicked, and cannot be treated for their psychosis. They are often quite smart, sometimes brilliant, and in their evil, will plan and execute mass murder. No psychological help will prevent them from doing evil. Lastly, and again the liberals will not even discuss it, is the prevalence of films by producers and directors like Quentin Tarrantino, and other despicable Hollywood types, who feed on the most violent content they can imagine. We, as a people, are being fed this daily violence as a national diet by a Hollywood industry without morals, character, or responsibility. We could also discuss violence against women in pornography, ambiguous values advance which blur and confuse the young with respect to issues of right and wrong. I do not think, as a conservative and a Christian evangelical, that the liberal media, the academics, or the leaders of our country have the moral courage to face the issue honestly, nor do they have the guts to even uncover the real reasons for our violent culture.


I think you forgot to mention one more thing John. War.
For the past 12 years this country has been engaged in a policy of wholesale slaughter against those in other countries. I could run through a whole list of reasons why which you've likely never heard of, but the reason that is sold to us is preservation of our safety and rights.

Images of real war, a culture of warmongering and ideological worship of the military are just as culpable as any hollywood movie, which I'm not defending, but hey I sure do like the 1st amendment just as much as the second.

You're god damn right liberals don't have the guts to confront ugly truths, neither do "conservatives". Yet all we can do is blame each other. [sad]

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