Goodbye moments in the US

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Parents and their school-aged children in the United States of America lingered over their goodbyes last Thursday morning.

Hugs lasted longer.

Hand squeezes went on a few seconds more.

And many a parent watched their children amble off to school — "Goodbye, Mom!" ... "Goodbye, Dad!" "Love you!" "Love you, too!" — for a few more moments than they did the day before, Valentine's Day, ironically.

Then turning away, parents drew a deep breath, trying to push away the inescapable worry — or hope — whether the kids will be OK at school today.

Less than 24 hours after a man with an AR-15 shot and killed 17 people and wounded more than a dozen at a school in Florida, these were the goodbye moments parents had on Thursday morning with yet another jolt of wretched anxiety and angst. In the United States of America today, goodbye moments now drip with dread.

The problems we face today in the United States of America are tough and difficult but left unsolved too often culminate in slaughter: Weaponry, deadly beyond the Founders' imaginations; ease of access to firearms of unimagined lethality; mental health issues that go unmet and end in calamity; warning signs that are missed or ignored; a desensitization of our human condition that is otherwise loathe to kill; and the list goes on.

In the United States, fatal school shootings — intentional and accidental — stretch as far back as the 1800s. But our modern massacres wipe out more lives in mere minutes than entire decades of school shootings before the 1950s and early 1960s. And lately it's the military-like AR-15 — a deadly favorite amongst the shooters who carried out the slaughters in Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; San Bernardino, California; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Las Vegas; and Parkland, Florida — that's claimed the lives of 154 people, according to NBC News.

We know full well the rights and freedoms to which Americans are entitled, including the right to bear arms. But the Founders also enshrined the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We should not allow our reverence for our right to bear arms trample on our children's rights to grow up in safe and secure places, especially their schools that we mandate they attend.

Caught up in a conflict of ideals, money and lobbyists, solutions in Congress seem elusive. We barely grieve one mass shooting and another happens. Yet something has to give, and some things can be done. Our leaders in Congress must do better by everyone, including law-abiding gun owners, by legislating stronger background checks for gun purchases and preventing sales to people with serious mental illnesses. Such laws are not the complete solution, but they are a fair and reasonable first step.

Unless and until we as a nation make meaningful changes, the United States of America will continue to hug its guns more tightly than its children. And the goodbye moments for parents across this country each morning will continue to be imbued with the tragic possibility of permanence.

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