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JOAN VENNOCHI

Not talking of Newtown is cowardice

Gabriel Gomez, the Republican candidate for US Senate, has it backwards.

It’s not cowardly to insert the massacre in Newtown, Conn., into the country’s gun control debate. It’s cowardly to leave Newtown and its victims out of the discussion.

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But throughout this special Senate election campaign, Gomez has been griping that US Representative Ed Markey is “politicizing” Newtown, whenever the Democrat reminds voters that his Republican rival opposes an assault-weapons ban. During last week’s final debate, Gomez also charged that Markey was “craven” to use the shooting to criticize him for his gun control position.

Why? The December rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the catalyst, after all, for a contentious national debate that ended in a failed bipartisan Senate proposal. The compromise, sponsored by Republican Senator Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, would have extended background checks to all sales at gun shows and over the Internet.

Gomez said he supports the bipartisan proposal, which fell short of the 60 votes it needed in the Senate to advance. He insists that if elected he would work to get Republicans and conservative Democrats behind the Toomey-Manchin compromise. Indeed, he argues that he, not Markey, is the candidate who can best do that, because he’s a new kind of Republican and Markey is an old-style liberal Democrat.

So what’s so terrible about linking the background check proposal to Newtown? Ignoring it is like talking about terrorism and national security without mentioning the Boston Marathon bombing and its victims.

If Gomez really believes that it’s wrong to speak of Newtown, he should talk to parents whose sons and daughters died at Sandy Hook Elementary School — or at least read the latest news stories about them. Six months after the rampage that killed 20 youngsters, ages 6 or 7, their parents are working to renew the push for gun legislation, even as they try to suppress public release of photos of their children’s shattered corpses.

Gabriel Gomez has been griping that Ed Markey is ‘politicizing’ Newtown.

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“Our purpose now is to force people to remember,” said Mark Barden in a Washington Post story so wrenching that it’s difficult to read. His 7-year-old son, Daniel, died when Adam Lanza, 20, blasted his way into Sandy Hook last Dec. 14. Today, Barden and other Newtown families are struggling to understand how Washington and the country can so easily move on. Their lives are forever changed, yet national policy about access to guns in America is unchanged, post-Newtown.

Investigators determined that Lanza fired 154 shots from a Bushmaster rifle in less than five minutes, killing eight boys, 12 girls, and six female staff members. After the rampage, he shot himself in the head. Before he headed to Sandy Hook, he shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, who owned the three semi-automatic weapons he brought to the school.

After that carnage, efforts to ban the kind of weaponry that Lanza used ran into the usual opposition from the National Rifle Association. The best that gun control supporters could produce was the background check compromise. Newtown families lobbied for it, and so did former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived another shooting massacre in Tucson that killed six and injured 18. But the NRA opposed even that weakened proposal and it failed.

The reality is that a background check wouldn’t have stopped Adam Lanza, because Nancy Lanza acquired the weapons. The son had access to an arsenal because his mother legally brought the weapons into their home.

That’s probably why Gomez would rather not talk about Newtown and his opposition to an assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

During their third and final debate, Markey asked Gomez to give an example of when an average citizen would need to use a weapon that can fire 100 bullets in less than two minutes. It would be interesting to hear that answer from a former Navy SEAL like Gomez. But the Republican side-stepped the question, by, as usual, proclaiming his support for Toomey-Manchin.

If the background check proposal is somehow resurrected in the Senate, that’s at least a start. But no one should ever forget, or be afraid to say, where the latest gun control debate started — in Newtown.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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