A day, and a chance, we should all seize

For proof the Maya were onto something when they predicted the world would end today, look no further than the rhetoric wafting in the wake of the massacre in Newtown, Conn.

It's 2012, and we're once again beginning to "debate" whether it's smart to allow the proliferation of semi-automatic assault weapons such as the one a single gunman used to murder 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As politicians lock and load their expressions of condolence and political positions, the funerals continue.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday, "In the coming days and weeks, we will engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence to grow. We have no greater responsibility than keeping our most vulnerable and most precious resource - our children - safe. And every idea should be on the table as we discuss how best to do just that."

Does this mean Reid, a longtime pro-gun rights Democrat who pursued the embrace of National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre with the zeal of a love-struck schoolboy during his last Senate campaign, will lead that meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate?

After initially expressing his "deepest sympathies to the families affected by this senseless tragedy," by Monday Sen. Dean Heller was back on a message that would have made the gun lobby proud: "We should look to our Constitution for the principles that will help guide us as we search for answers in these increasingly difficult and complicated times."

Look to our Constitution?

Not exactly a Hallmark sympathy card, senator.

Meanwhile, Cerberus Capital Management - the private equity firm that owns the assault weapon manufacturer Freedom Group - has decided that maybe it's poor form to make a killing from the sale of guns designed to kill other citizens. From a company news release: "It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level."

We'll see.

The response from the guns-at-any-cost crowd is predictable: What's the rush? Wait until the last witness is interviewed in the Sandy Hook shooting. From Heartland Institute Senior Fellow for Legal Affairs Maureen Martin: "Until complete police and forensic reports are available - until we know what happened and why - no rational preventive measures can be formulated. Let the families grieve. Let all of America grieve. Let the police complete their work. Then let solutions be considered."

That should take only a few months. The story of the slaughter of children should be old news by then.

For some, the answer isn't to draw the line as a nation and take a stand against the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, but to arm schoolteachers and administrators. It's like an episode of "South Park" come to life: "Textbooks, check. Graded papers, check. Semiautomatic Glock, check. Locked, loaded, and ready to learn."

The same public education critics who regularly vilify teachers as incapable of instructing your children in their multiplication tables are now suggesting they should be charged with protecting those same kids in violent confrontations that would challenge a veteran SWAT Team.

Next stop, End of the World Station.

But that's the level of logic Twister you have to play to satisfy the gun makers who wrap themselves in the flag and the Second Amendment. Don't address society's gun lust, or its collective blindness on the issue of mental illness. Don't focus on the need for increased school security. Just give teachers one more job to do: instructor, disciplinarian, nutritionist, psychologist, and now armed guard.

While no sensible person believes passing a law will mean the end of violence, a united effort from Congress would symbolize that we've drawn a line as a society.

As small caskets make their way to the graveyard in Newtown and a nation grieves, the odds are good the Mayan calendar is wrong and the sun will rise tomorrow.

It's not the end of the world, but it is an opportunity to stand up for a better one.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Smith