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By Patrick Murphy

On Wednesday — Valentine’s Day — a 19-year-old with clear mental health issues walked into a Broward County high school and killed 17 innocent Floridians. This has happened before. It has happened in Florida — at a nightclub. At a country music concert. At a church. At a school. The victims came from every ethnicity, background, religion, age, sexual orientation, and political leaning.

There is no excuse for these tragically common occurrences. When the facts are this clear, there is no need to “reserve judgment” on the cause. We should not be shamed for “jumping to conclusions.” There is no scenario where this needs more explanation.

A young man armed with an AR-15 walked into a school and murdered 17 people. It is wrong and our political leaders in Washington know it. They must find the courage to take action.

But it will take more than repeated tragedies and the mass loss of life to get Washington to act. There are few in power willing to take the necessary steps to limit magazine sizes, increase funding for mental health services, strengthen background checks, and close gun-show loopholes — despite large public majorities supporting each of these proposals.

In the 2016 U.S. Senate race, I was on the receiving end of more than $3 million in outside negative attacks funded by the NRA, the second-most spent on any Senate campaign in the country. The gun lobby wanted a senator it could count on to block any sensible firearm regulations, not one who was strongly supportive of background checks and closing gun-show loopholes. The gun lobby candidate won.

The voices spending that money have successfully silenced any sort of reform that could make even the slightest dent in the firearm epidemic ravaging the U.S. When I served in the House, not a single one of these measures ever came up for a vote.

The argument used by the NRA and its supporters is that these shootings would happen regardless, that there is nothing we do can stop this from happening. We have many laws preventing homicide, burglary, financial fraud, and sexual violence, and sadly those crimes still occur as well. Yet only with guns does it seem politicians throw their hands up in despair and say, “Well, there’s no way we could’ve stopped this. Time to move on.”

What will be the final straw that finally forces Congress to at least open up formal debate — let alone introduce a bill, pass it, and have it signed into law — that curbs the scourge of gun deaths across the country? It wasn’t the murder of children at a school. Or of innocents at a movie theater. Or of parishioners at a prayer group. Is this simply a tragedy that our nation will never have the fortitude to address?

We have elections in November that will have a vast sway in the direction of this debate. Ignore the smears, the lies, the distortions, the dodges. Hold your representatives’ feet to the fire. Our lives — and the lives of our children — depend on it.

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