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A coffin bearing the body of Victoria Soto is carried out of Lordship Community Church after her funeral service on Wednesday in Stratford, Conn.

Will the tragedy in Newtown be the moment that finally changes the subject of our national debate from gun control to gun safety?

There is something about a mass murder at an elementary school, which left dead 20 children and six adults, that is at once incongruent and lingeringly haunting to our national psyche.

Newtown, with a population of roughly 28,000 that self-identifies as a "scenic small town," has suddenly become an adjective that describes a crime beyond comprehension.

Before this latest atrocity, President Barack Obama was already averaging one news conference per year related to a horrific shooting.

  • On Nov. 5, 2009, in a shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, a gunman killed 13 people and wounded 29 others.

  • On Jan. 8, 2011, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot during a public meeting held in a supermarket in Tucson, Ariz.; six died.

  • On July 20, there was a mass shooting at Aurora, Colo., during the midnight screening of the film "The Dark Knight Rises," killing 12 and injuring 58.

  • On Aug. 5, a mass shooting took place at Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., that killed six and wounded four.

    Days before Newtown, there was the shooting at a shopping mall in Happy Valley, Ore., that killed two.

    Are we content to conclude the shootings in Newtown and elsewhere are merely the unintended consequences of a people unduly committed to the Second Amendment?


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    High-profile tragedies like Newtown are a doubled-edge sword, bringing large amounts of attention for short periods. We conveniently save our outrage and grief for the sensational, but for many cities across the nation, what happened in Newtown is, in its own way, normative.

    The Newtown tragedy would need to be replicated four additional times to exceed the number of homicides that Oakland has to date.

    Undoubtedly, the National Rifle Association will lobby members of Congress with persuasive non sequiturs offering that events like Newtown are an exception and that any discussion of gun safety will somehow take away the rights of law-abiding citizens.

    Emphasis on gun safety will require that elected officials demonstrate as much courage to stand up against the NRA as the unarmed teachers did at Sandy Hook Elementary School to protect innocent children from further carnage.

    The absolutes that dominate the gun-control debate keep our postmodern society with one foot firmly planted in a primordial arrested development. There are those who argue that "stand your ground" laws that exist in some states bring a sense of safety, but we have also witnessed that those laws can embolden the irrational.

    Does adherence to the Second Amendment mean we cannot make it more difficult for the mentally ill to purchase weapons? Can we not enact harsher penalties for those who use or have in their possession unregistered firearms? Can we bring back the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004?

    How does law enforcement define gun safety? Shouldn't their opinion weigh heavily in this debate?

    We will not prohibit completely the demented soul from carrying out the unthinkable. But that does not mean more shouldn't be done. It would be tragically ignorant to not conclude something in our culture is dreadfully wrong.

    Unlike gun control, the gun-safety discussion would place its emphasis on questions being more important than answers, and moral certainty would be a vice while "I don't know" a possible virtue.

    But now is not the time for reactionary policies or the politics of the status quo. Nor can we allow Newtown to momentarily dominate our attention only to have time cause its horror fade from our memory as have so many other tragedies.

    Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or byron@byronspeaks.com.