The tragic shooting in Tucson that took the lives of six and injured 14 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was a sobering wake-up call for both U.S. lawmakers and citizens. While many have echoed President Obama’s calls for civility and honesty in public discourse, others — such as Sarah Palin — have reacted with a disgustingly business-as-usual attitude. Those who claim that the shooting was the work of a madman — an isolated incident unrelated to U.S. politics as a whole — fail to see the important lessons here. Not only should we begin to critically analyze the way we discuss politics in our nation, but, importantly, there are policy steps that we can take right now to prevent this type of tragedy from reoccurring.

[media-credit id=20135 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter, had been expelled from his college for disruptive behavior, which was documented as bizarre and, in their words, “creepy.” Loughner had been rejected from the army for failing a drug test and had been described by friends and classmates as withdrawn and strange. It was clear that Loughner was mentally unstable, though the degree to which this influenced the shooting is debatable. It begs the question of why someone with a record of disruptive and dangerous behavior, previous drug charges and rejection from the army was able to purchase a firearm. On a larger scale, it questions what aspect of our society allowed someone who exhibited signs of mental illness since high school to never receive any true psychiatric care.

Luckily, these two issues are ones that we can actually solve with policy. Gun control is a very unpopular political topic; it has always been extremely partisan and contentious. Therefore, we should use this opportunity to follow figures such as New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand in advocating for reform of our gun control legislation. Right now, figures from both parties can advocate for rational gun control without worrying about the usual political backlash. Even if we are able to create legislation that helps restrict those who are mentally ill from purchasing weapons, it will be a step in the right direction. Sadly, this climate of cooperation won’t last for long and it is up to legislators to act quickly before regulation becomes impossible.

The second solvable issue here is ensuring the availability of proper care for the mentally ill. Realizing this, it is baffling that Republicans have continued their ideological push for healthcare repeal. Despite a brief hiatus, they remain committed to repealing the law in the face of cases such as Loughner, who prove the inadequacies of mental care in the U.S. This unshakable conviction shows how tragically little we have learned from the Tuscon shooting. If we can’t even make policy steps towards correcting the obvious causes of this tragedy, there is little hope for any larger ideological reform in U.S. politics.

We should start with the changes we are able to make and we can begin to remove the militant, violent exhortations and language that have continued to pollute discourse in our nation. We owe it to those who were lost to show we can change, show that we can create smart policy to correct our failings and hopefully inspire rationality both at home and in Washington.