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Our Growing Death Toll Needs Constant Attention

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It has been a long time since the first postal worker went postal back in 1983. Since then America has endured countless other mass shootings. But, the tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut was supposed to change everything.

We collectively declared that the horror of innocent children being gunned down in cold blood was a game changer. A troubled son shooting his mother to death in her bed and then rampaging through an elementary school was our national wake-up call.

Finally, we told each other, it was time for America to do something about its gun problem!

It would have been a glorious homage to the Newtown victims. Sorry to say, however, those 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School died needlessly. So did victim number one, Nancy Lanza, the mother of the shooter.

Since that awful day in Connecticut last Dec. 14, special interest groups have drawn lines in the sand, politicians have made declarations and the vice president held some meetings where some of the same old suggestions popped up.

We have argued about Second Amendment rights, semi-automatic rifles, the number of bullets in magazine clips, background checks, gun show sales and how the National Rifle Association must be to blame for the whole rotten mess.

In reality, it is the ubiquitous handgun that does most of the killing in this country, but few are talking about that.

And it is not the vast majority of gun owners who dutifully follow the law and register their guns — and maybe belong to the NRA — that are the problem. It is the criminal element and the mentally ill who most often perpetrate gun violence.

Please, let’s get it straight who the real enemy is and focus on what to do about them!

It makes me incredibly sad as I make my daily check at a web portal set up by the online news site, Slate, and co-managed by a group called @GunDeaths. The editors readily admit that their U.S. murder data is incomplete because in a country as big as ours it is not easy to contemporaneously register every single death.

So, they augment their own reporting with verifiable death information the public sends in. The site’s best calculation concludes that since the Newtown massacre more than 1,440 Americans have died by gun violence.

At my deadline, the heavily populated state of California led the way with more than 146 people murdered in the seven weeks since the Newtown tragedy. About a dozen of them were children.

In Texas, there were 103 gun deaths. Florida was close behind with 90. The city of Chicago has become a virtual killing field with at least 52 recent gun deaths despite having one of the country’s most restrictive set of gun laws. Illinois’ statewide gun death total since Newtown is 76. Missouri counted nearly 50 people, and New York had 40 killed by guns.

In New Mexico, the list reflected another mass shooting by a troubled son who is accused of gunning down both his parents and three siblings. That brought the death toll in the Land of Enchantment to at least 15 since the elementary school shooting in Connecticut that was supposed to change everything.

Think of it: More than 1,440 bullet-ridden bodies stacked up at morgues across the country; 1,440 funerals; countless thousands of family members forced to grieve.

At this pace, 2013′s tally will soon surpass the number of people who died in the terrorists acts of Sept. 11. We will count more dead Americans right here at home this year than all the U.S. military members who lost their lives in the war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

How many more will die before we can agree on concrete solutions?

As we dither and do nothing, North Carolina has seen 56 gun-related deaths since Newtown. Georgia reported 56 dead. Louisiana had 50, Colorado 32, Michigan 44, Oklahoma 36, Indiana 35, Arizona 27, Washington state 22.

Perhaps we should take a cue from Australia, where plenty of people still have guns.

In 1996, after a massacre in which 35 people died, swift action was taken. The most dangerous rifles and shotguns were outlawed and the government launched a buy-back program of those banned firearms. Over the next decade gun related homicides fell by 59 percent and the suicide rate fell by 65 percent. A coincidence? Maybe.

I don’t hear much talk about cutting off the criminal’s favorite ammunition source — the Internet — or more closely regulating the sale of bullets so that only the most demonstrably responsible gun owners could buy them. With 311 million guns in America maybe a limit on the number of new guns that could be imported or manufactured here would be in order.

And, my personal favorite: Let’s pass an ironclad national law that any criminal using a gun in the commission of a crime gets an automatic extra 10 years tacked onto his or her sentence. No questions, no leniency.

I challenge every newspaper in America to dedicate a daily front page spot to the growing gun death tally, with pictures of the dead children caught up in our adult madness.

It’s easy in our busy lives to overlook the carnage, but not if its human toll is staring us in the face every day.

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