We’re at a turning point.
We’re again at a moment in our nation’s history where we can decide who we are as a people, what matters most and what kind of country we want to hand to our children.
Are we again going to be a state and nation that passively bears witness to carnage in our streets? In our shopping malls? Our schools? Our houses of worship? Our bars and restaurants? Or are we simply going to shrug, throw our hands in the air, and conclude once again that this is just the price of being an American?
The decisions our elected leaders make over the coming days and weeks on whether to debate proposals that are so common sense, so basic, so simple that we shouldn’t even have to debate them will be our legacy to history, our grant to posterity.
Again, we find ourselves asking simple questions. They’re the ones we failed to answer after Sandy Hook, Orlando, San Bernardino, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Virginia Beach, and Parkland - after every mass shooting that’s shattered lives and families, destroyed bodies, and upended entire communities.
And they’re the ones we fail to answer every day, when people are gunned down in violent events that are all too routine in cities like Philadelphia.
Do we surrender to fear? Do we give into hopelessness? Do we let violence triumph over that most fundamental of American rights, the one that Gov. Pennsylvania Tom Wolf alluded to during a packed rally in the state Capitol rotunda on Wednesday evening - the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
“We all live in the same country,” Wolf said, answering a critic in the crowd. “We have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We’re not trying to take anybody’s rights away. We’re trying to preserve our own.”
That’s the only answer that matters. The only one that makes any sense.
We’re talking about approving universal background checks, which, in poll after poll, Americans support in overwhelming numbers - irrespective of their party affiliation or tribal loyalties.
We’re talking about authorizing so-called “red flag” laws that would allow police and loved ones to obtain a court order, while respecting due process, to seize someone’s guns if they think that person poses a risk to themselves or to others.
The laws work. Look to Connecticut and Indiana, where studies have shown a reduction in suicides.
Republican Sen. Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania is leading the push for expanded background checks on his side of Capitol Hill. The Senate also has a more vigorous background checks bill approved by the House.
So far, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proven stubbornly resistant to bring the House bill to a vote. But with control of the Senate on the line in 2020, Republicans could pay a dear price for inaction. McConnell has to know that.
But even if Congress does vote, it’s an open question whether President Donald Trump - who has supported reform measures in the past, only to wilt in the face of NRA pressure - would even sign the bills if they made it to his desk.
Trump, who shattered his call for civility on social media almost as soon as he made it this week, cannot be looked upon as an honest broker.
But something has to change.
Otherwise, what do we say to the next Julia Mallory, a Harrisburg mom whose 17-year-old son, Julian, was gunned down in 2017? The young man was “peacemaker” with a community advocacy group known as Breaking the Chainz. Do we say, “Tough luck? We tried? You’re on your own?”
What do we say to the classroom teachers like Lauren Peck, of the activist group Moms Demand Action, who has to swallow back her own fear so that she can be a self-described “superhero” to her child and to her middle-school students?
Those are choices we should never have to ask our parents, our educators, our middle-school kids to make. But every time we fail to act, that’s exactly what we do.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’re at a turning point.
We have the solutions within reach, a remedy within our grasp. There’s only one path forward. We have to be brave enough to take it.
It shouldn’t be this hard.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.