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America needs to get going on rational gun debate

Maybe now it's possible for the people of this great nation to engage in a rational debate about gun violence. Maybe now, after the incomprehensible tragedy in Newtown, Conn., cultural and political leaders will summon the courage to stare down the gun lobby. Maybe now Americans of good conscience will embrace a comprehensive examination of the role of weapons in a 21st century society that seems enamored, engulfed and desensitized by "entertainment" violence.

There is no single answer. There is no guarantee that strict gun control, for example, would have by itself prevented the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But that is no reason to take sensible control of guns out of the national discussion. This is about gun violence, and everyone knows it. This is about guns getting into the hands of people who should not have access to lethal weapons. This is about the easy availability and incredible number of firearms out there -- so easy and so many that it is inevitable unstable individuals and criminals will get what they want.

Of course, the picture is bigger than the proliferation of weapons. The nation's mental health system -- often hamstrung by concern with individual liberties -- is a failure when it comes to identifying and helping people with signs of mental illness. Movie makers and electronic game industries profit from selling horrendous images of violence -- often gun violence -- to young people. The firearms lobby, primarily made up of the National Rifle Association, gun makers and gun sellers, has beaten Congress into submission with threats of political retaliation if even a mention of gun control is whispered in Congress or in state capitals.

And therein hides the underlying crime: stifling discussion and debate. Reluctance to talk seriously about what is surely one of the nation's virulent maladies is not acceptable. It's not rational. It's not how complex problems are solved. It's not how a corrosive societal ill is defined and cured.

If the murder of children in Connecticut teaches us anything, it's that business as usual won't do. -- The Forum