None of the many, many mass killings of the past decade has turned my stomach quite like the carnage visited upon Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, which took place five years ago tomorrow. Twenty first-graders and six staff (including the principal).

Twenty first-graders — gunned down with an assault weapon. Let that image make you really, really uncomfortable because we need to remember this one. On Memorial Day, we hold it to be our sacred duty as citizens to remember those who gave their lives in war, defending our liberty. One of those liberties is enshrined in the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms. So it is also our sacred duty to remember those who were victims of that liberty. 

Gun owners should be leading the memorial services for the 20 first-graders who lost their lives — indirectly caused by the NRA and its members failing to accept the responsibilities that go with those rights. Those who obstruct legislation designed to keep guns out of the hands of those who use them for mass killings enables those murders. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

With rights come responsibilities. They are inseparable, inalienable. No responsibilities, no rights. 

Ideally, it is up to the society at large to define what those responsibilities are. Not the NRA, not our lawmakers. Laws are how we formalize society’s expectations. Articulating those expectations is our job. The lawmakers must then do our bidding. If, instead, they do the bidding of the highest bidder, they deserve to be voted out because they aren’t representing the people. They’re representing the gun manufacturers and the NRA. 

By a strong majority, Americans want something done about the almost daily occurrence of mass murder in this country using firearms. But in the five years since Newtown, nothing has happened at the federal level. A few states passed tougher laws while other states passed more lenient laws, making guns even more readily accessible. 

In Oak Park in 2014, over 92 percent of voters approved a non-binding referendum calling for a nationwide background check system, no loopholes, no exceptions, one system that everybody follows. Cook County voters in the same election approved a much broader non-binding referendum that included an assault weapon ban with roughly 80 percent voting in favor (85 percent in River Forest).

We know we’re in the majority, but our will is not being enacted in Congress. 

After the massacre of first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary, their parents went to Washington DC to make impassioned pleas to do something about this national nightmare. One father said they went after the “low-hanging fruit” of national background checks. “I figured we’d at least get that,” he said. But the Republicans voted it down.

You’ve got to be pretty hard-hearted to face the parents of massacred first-graders and say No. Or cowardly.

NRA members, many of whom agree that something should be done about mass killings (based on past surveys), are willing to accept greater responsibility and probably a re-enactment of an assault weapon ban, but they’re afraid to say so because of the vilification they would suffer from the gun rights culture. So they remain silent.

Instead they advance lame “rationales,” claiming that national background checks won’t work. They don’t know, of course, because it’s never been tried. But they’re skeptical, so better to do nothing, I guess, if you’re not sure. 

I think they’re scared that background checks will work, if implemented properly, and prove them wrong. 

But madmen and criminals will still find a way to get guns, they say, grasping at smaller and smaller straws.

We never said they would stop all killings. We said it would reduce them, but not alone. Other measures are needed: safe storage of guns so they don’t get stolen in home break-ins (happens a lot), an assault weapon ban (they aren’t used for hunting, aren’t needed for self-defense), reducing the size of ammunition clips (slows down the shooter if he has to keep reloading), smart gun technology (only the owner can fire the weapon), and licensing all gun dealers (to weed out the “bad apples”). 

None of these alone will stop mass killings, but together we can make significant progress.

If the opposition were reasonable, they would at the very least support outlawing “bump stocks,” which turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons. Following the recent carnage in Las Vegas, the NRA has opposed even that. If you can’t support regulating bump stocks, you can’t support anything. That is the very definition of unreasonable.

All rights, no responsibilities: That should be the motto of the NRA. With rights come responsibilities: That is the motto of the Gun Responsibility Advocates, a local group of citizens pushing for common-sense regulation of firearms.

This Thursday night, Dec. 14, the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, GRA will show the powerful documentary Newtown – What remains after all is lost? which introduces some of the first-graders who were killed and describes what life has been like for the families in the aftermath. It starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Veterans Room and runs for 80 minutes, followed by discussion. Everyone is invited. Free admission.

Earlier that day, at 9:35 a.m., the bells of numerous Oak Park churches will toll 26 times for the victims. On the lawn at St. Edmund, Oak Park Avenue and Pleasant Street, the names will be read aloud.

Dec. 14 should be declared an annual day of mourning — our new Memorial Day — for all the victims of this country’s unrivaled and shameful legacy of mass shootings. 

Maybe even NRA members will take part and begin accepting the responsibilities that go with their rights.

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