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Randy Perkins: Hatred, terrorism, gun violence and mental health

I, like every American, am deeply saddened by the horrific terrorist attack that took place in Orlando last weekend. Innocent lives were viciously taken, and families were torn apart.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the details and motivations of this attack. We do know a shooter, who had previously been under investigation by the FBI, used a high-powered automatic weapon to take the lives of 49 defenseless people and injure many others. This was a hate crime.

In the wake of this atrocity, once again we came together as a nation. For a brief period — was it even 24 hours? — our nation’s leaders were unified in sorrow, prayer and consolation. Press statements. Emails. Social media posts. All condemning the violence and offering solace to the friends and families of those killed and injured in this unspeakable violence.

Then it was gone.

In a flash, we are back to where we were just a few short days ago. We are back to blaming, pointing fingers and attacking one another. Each party is retreating to their partisan corners for political cover and avoiding tough decisions. From unhinged opposition to gun control to refusing to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” both parties share in the blame.

Both parties have repeatedly dropped the ball and evaded responsibility in addressing the difficult challenges facing our nation, specifically gun violence and mental health.

Columbine. Virginia Tech. Fort Hood. Aurora. Sandy Hook. San Bernardino.

It is the same story after every shooting, but nothing changes.

Here is the reality: these are very real challenges that we face as a nation, and every moment we wait we risk innocent lives being lost and communities torn apart.

No one knows how to prevent all mass shootings and terrorist attacks in our country, but I do know a lack of meaningful action guarantees they will continue.

We often hear we need to reform the way we treat mental illness. But doing so would require an overhaul of our medical systems, a revamping of health insurance, and a cultural rethinking on how we treat our brothers and sisters who suffer from a wide variety of mental health conditions, especially when identified at an early age.

We need hard work, a long-term commitment and, most of all, a willingness to reach across the aisle and throw away partisan rhetoric, so we can work together toward commonsense solutions.

Are we doing enough to recognize when people are becoming isolated and susceptible to radicalization and extreme anti-social behavior and violence?

When are we going to sit down and have real meaningful conversations about gun ownership while finding a way to protect and realistically uphold the Second Amendment? Can we balance the right to keep and bear arms while also addressing the problem of mass killings and assault weapons getting into the wrong hands? Are we willing to allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies the latitude to do what needs to be done to keep us safe?

I believe we MUST ask these uncomfortable questions as caring and concerned citizens. The American people demand that we do this — and we need to listen to them. But we also must be willing to make tough choices, make decisions based on what is best for our nation and not what is in the best interest of our party or even our own political careers.

I believe we need to ask tough questions and work toward effective solutions.

But to get things done, we have to work together. We have to listen to one another, and we must hear one another. We must accept there are times when the questions and the answers won’t be easy, the conversations won’t be comfortable, and the solutions may take years of hard work.

I will always sit down and work with all members of Congress as long as their positions don’t come from a place of hatred, bigotry or discrimination. The challenges facing our country — terrorism, gun violence, mental health, preserving Social Security and Medicare, high prescription drug costs, early child education, veteran’s affairs, livable wages, jobs and so many other issues — affect every single one of us and we must demand that our politicians work together. We can’t continue to hide behind party identity or cower under a shield of complacency. This doesn’t mean we have to compromise our core principles, but it does mean we have to demand that our elected leaders work together even when it comes with some personal or political risk.

But to sit back and simply wait for the next crisis — the next mass murder, the next economic bubble, the next government shutdown — is not a solution.

When it comes down to it, we are all trying to get to the same place, but we are on different roads. We need to demand that our elected officials get on the same road and solve problems.

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Randy Perkins is a Democrat running for Congress in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

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