Paul Greenberg

It's a particularly American assumption, that for every problem, or even unspeakable horror, there is a solution, or at least a new policy. And it has its advantages. There's something -- indeed, much -- to be said for tighter regulation of firearms in our gun-happy society. Just as there's much to be said for cutting out the pornography of violence that streams across our television screens. And for having a guard -- a well-trained and well-armed one -- at every school.


Who needs those military-style assault weapons flooding the market? And those banana clips full of ammo. Why? To go squirrel hunting? To satisfy some veteran's nostalgia for the weapon he once fired on the range? How strange. I've never had the slightest longing for a 105-millimeter howitzer I could call my own.

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But any logic and humility, let alone any new insight, was soon lost in the national shout show that follows every Newtown, Conn., or Killeen, Tex., or Virginia Tech. But the storm of words soon abated. You could hear the rustle of newspapers all over the country as readers turned to the sports pages. And it was a step up. Compared to reading the practiced opinionators who know just what they think and always will, the sportswriters seem open-minded. Maybe there's something about keeping score, the unarguable judgment it delivers at the end of a game, that makes them less dogmatic, more pragmatic, and willing to reconsider old positions.

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And what's this -- something good out of Joe Biden? The vice president is said to be conferring with a wide range of officials in law enforcement in order to come up with a comprehensive plan to stem the violence in our shoot-'em-up society. Instead of just another piecemeal approach to gun control -- like a restriction on gun shows here and a limit on the size ammo clips there.

Here's hoping he'll also get together with some leading cultural critics and people who work in mental health. So they can talk about violent video games and such. And the need to pay more attention to potential killers while they're still potential, rather than after they've shot up a school, movie theater, fast-food restaurant. Or firemen rushing to the rescue and being ambushed by some maniac.

Please, no more Band-Aids instead of a complete physical -- and mental -- check up. Let's check the ideological hang-ups and moralistic judgments at the door before tackling this all too widespread problem. Let's approach this problem in much the way government has responded to other challenges when it comes to public health, whether smoking or venereal disease or polio, smallpox and such. That response has been remarkably effective. The progress on all those fronts has been dramatic. Smoke-covered newsrooms, not to mention bars and restaurants, have become things of the past. Also, the conspiracies of silence that used to cover the Big C or AIDS -- and prevent honest discussion and effective treatment.

Now is the time, way past the time, to approach violence in our society in much the same way as we did those other plagues -- as a problem in public health rather than an ideological tug-of-war. Surely we can respect the Second Amendment and still act to protect our children. It's striking what Americans can accomplish when we approach a challenge in pragmatic rather than political fashion. Didn't this used to be a can-do society, not a debating society?

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.