As New Hampshire lowers flags to half-staff once again following the horrific violence in Nashville this week, it is hard not to feel hopeless. How many times? How many innocent lives? Our children are being gunned down at school. How often will we lower flags to honor the loss of innocence? How many more families will be forced through this nightmare?
We are the United States of America. How is it that we have not yet figured out how to prevent 9-year-olds from being killed at school? How is it that we have not found a way to implement reasonable safety measures to keep first-graders from being shot in their classroom with automatic assault weapons that can unload 90 bullets in 10 seconds. 90 bullets in 10 seconds!
The cycle of outrage and avoidance and blame is maddening. It makes us lose trust and confidence in our institutions. Democracy demands an active and engaged citizenry to thrive, but forces are at work eroding and seeking to dismantle the very systems Americans built to do things like educate our children and keep them safe. This erosion of trust combined with the spread of misinformation and polarization leads to inaction and hopelessness. It is designed to prevent progress and change — especially when that change is desperately needed.
One of the primary roles of government is to keep people safe. We invest considerable tax dollars to ensure our national defense and public safety. And yet, GUNS ARE NOW THE LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH FOR CHILDREN in the United States. We have the power and ability to address this public safety crisis. There are reasonable measures that we can take to stem the tide of these horrendous deaths. And the encouraging news is that most Americans support:
• Background checks for private and gun show sales.
• A national “red flag” law.
• Requiring a license before gun purchase.
• Banning the sale of high-capacity magazines.
• Banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons.
• A mandatory assault weapon buyback program.
The beauty of a democratic form of government is that WE the people have power. Together, we can insist that those who earn our votes support safety in our schools and on our streets. We can put an end to this vicious cycle of inaction driven by those who want us to disengage and give up.
We can do this, and we must do this because frankly, it is up to us. What the 376 school shootings have demonstrated since Columbine in 1999 is that this cannot be done by an individual leader or political party. The challenge ahead is one that requires every single one of us to take a hard look at those running for public office and cast our votes accordingly. VOTE. And make support for reasonable public safety measures a litmus test for your vote. Honor the innocent lives lost not only by lowering the American flag to half-staff, but by demanding that it represent the change we desperately need to see in the world.
Stefany Shaheen is the chair of the Portsmouth Police Commission.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Shaheen: Frustrated with ceaseless gun violence? Vote for change.