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Save our children

| Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

Not every Christmas is merry for everyone. Tragedy strikes at any time of year, but it seems worse during the holidays. When grief occurs against the canvas of holiday merriment, the loss is only clarified.

The violent deaths of innocent children, heart-wrenching reminders of our own babies, made us all victims of loss this year, and reminders are everywhere. Christmas displays and carolers might bring a quick smile, until you remember those children whose smiles will not beam, whose eyes will not sparkle.

If there is one gift we can give them, it is to come together to stop this horror that is our national story. We must avoid hot-button labels like “gun control” laws, because the changes we need are more properly called “save our children” laws. It has come to that.

Sensible regulations, including a prohibition of those assault weapons, large-capacity magazines and ammunition that are designed to kill human beings, must be part of this. The Second Amendment will survive these changes and the end of the gun-show loophole, and hunters and others will retain their rights.

The pro-gun lobby has warned us that any regulation would create a slippery slope of restrictive laws, threatening freedom. But a different slippery slope has been created by our failure to act. We have stepped on it and slid straight to a special hell, where our children are slaughtered like enemy combatants.

Politicians have cut mental-health budgets with impunity, because it seemed to affect only that invisible constituency, until now. They need to look at those innocent faces to understand they can no longer balance budgets on the heads of our children. Programs that identify and treat troubled individuals must be fully funded.

If family members, law enforcement and medical officials are powerless to get help for someone who obviously needs it, the law must be changed. Individual rights must cede to the rights of our children to live safely and happily.

More justice systems should be designed to spot potentially violent defendants and divert them to mental-health courts when treatment is appropriate. Allegheny County has operated a diversionary court since 1991, rejecting the old model of punishment without treatment.

Judges in this program act collaboratively, with the full cooperation of the district attorney, bringing together the expertise of psychologists, probation officers, social workers and others to carefully monitor and treat each defendant. And police are trained to spot troubled individuals as early as possible.

The tragedies that have been averted by these special courts will never be fully known, but the failures of a system that chooses to just “lock 'em up” until they get dumped back on the streets, or to not pay them any attention at all, are visited upon us too often.

If we can take these and other steps, if we never forget the faces of those 20 angels, maybe next year, Christmas will be a little merrier. And that will be their gift to all of us.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (SabinoMistick@aol.com).

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