OPED: Leaders need to take action on guns

York Dispatch

Dylan Hockley, a 6-year-old who loved the movie "Up" and the rides at a theme park near his home in Newtown, Conn.

Cowardly Politicians

Ke'Arre Stewart, who at 29 had served a tour in Iraq and had two little girls at home in Colorado.

Bennetta Betbadal, a 46-year-old mother of three and dedicated San Bernardino County public service employee who left Iran at age 18 to escape persecution and build a better life for her family in California.

These three people never met and lived in completely different parts of the country, but their stories are now all connected by the same terrifying thread: they fell victim to heinous gun violence as they were simply living their everyday lives.

Three years ago this week, 20 children and six of their educators were brutally killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Just three weeks ago, the day after Thanksgiving, three people were murdered in targeting a Planned Parenthood health care clinic in Colorado Springs. And just five days later, armed assailants at an office holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino senselessly took the lives of 14 dedicated public employees.

Most weeks, teachers, health care providers and most public service workers don't spend their day thinking about the epidemic of gun violence in America. But this week isn't just any other.

This week, as we honor and remember the lives of innocents lost in the unimaginable tragedy at Sandy Hook, we come together in solidarity, forever changed by the destruction and devastation of gun violence, to demand more from our elected leaders.

We know the courage it takes to fight back against the terror of guns as victims, witnesses, and loved ones pick up the pieces and move forward one step at a time, going back to their daily lives — back to work, back to school, back to their routines. If they can take these courageous steps forward, shouldn't our elected leaders be able to find a path forward to better protect all of us from gun violence? The time for shrugging shoulders is over. The time to act for our children, our families and our communities is now.

While mass shootings dominate the news, we can't forget that gun violence is a sad fact of life that affects countless communities, and too many people of color find it more and more and more difficult to find safety and justice in our broken criminal justice system.

The vast majority of Americans want to prevent gun violence. It is high time for all of our leaders to listen to them, to join together and use our American strength and ingenuity to overcome divides, to stop blocking commonsense measures that could help prevent the epidemic of gun violence, and to finally say enough is enough.

No one should face fear when they go to a church to worship, a school to learn, a clinic to get health care, or an office party to celebrate colleagues. Together, we will join our allies and stand against gun violence.

Together we can choose to be the generation that moves our nation through hopelessness and despair and become a powerful force for change. When we join hands as an American family and move together, there is nothing that we can't achieve.

This challenge may seem insurmountable. But America has accomplished the seemingly impossible before. We put a man on the moon. We ended slavery. Together, we can stop the epidemic of gun violence.

It's time to heal from these tragedies — for the families who lost loved ones; the traumatized co-workers; the communities struggling to recover; and a nation weary of so many violent shootings and deaths. Elected leaders across this nation must come together and make a commitment to finding a way forward, to learning from these tragedies and to taking steps that will build a better future where we are all safe in our schools, workplaces and communities. Do something, because doing nothing is no longer an option.

Mary Kay Henry is international president of the Service Employees International Union. Cecile Richards is president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.