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So Full of Vitality and Promise

On November 10, 1979, Cindi Lamb was driving to the grocery store with her infant daughter Laura when her car was hit head-on by another vehicle. The baby girl was paralyzed for the rest of her life, and died at age six.

On May 3, 1980, Candy Lightner's 13-year-old daughter Cari was walking to a church carnival with a friend when she was struck by a car. The driver never even stopped. Cari was taken to the hospital, where she died.

Traffic accidents happen every day, but these two had something in common: The drivers that caused both collisions were drunk. At the time, drunk-driving laws were ambiguous and were rarely enforced. For example, in California driving while intoxicated was punishable by a $1000 fine and a year in jail, but the law did not define "intoxicated" or specify a blood alcohol limit, so juries had plenty of leeway in determining whether the driver should be punished at all.

Cindi Lamb and Candy Lightner vowed to change that. Together they started Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and pushed for consistent national laws and limits. They took their case to the people, and to the elected officials. Between public education campaigns and tougher laws, we have been able to reduce drunk driving fatalities by more than half. Then-president Ronald Reagan called the effort "an excellent example of the private sector and government working together to attack a serious problem."

This was not an easy cause for Reagan to get behind. Despite the fact that drunk drivers killed thousands of people annually, Reagan's instincts told him government was not the solution to any problem. When Congress passed a bill that would force states to raise the drinking age to 21 or forfeit federal highway funds, Reagan initially threatened to veto it, arguing that it impinged on states' rights. In the end, however, Reagan was convinced any inconvenience to the states was worth it because too many kids were dying. In a statement to announce his signing of the bill, Reagan said, "We know that America has a clear stake in making certain that her sons and daughters, so full of vitality and promise, will not be crippled or killed."

Today's politicians face a similar dilemma on the issue of gun violence. Many are ideologically committed to reject government action as a possible solution to any problem. Yet kids continue to be crippled and killed. Will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and President Donald Trump find the courage to rise above ideology and work together to attack a serious problem? I wouldn't count on it.

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