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As summer yielded her warming embrace to the subtle advances of autumn, I eagerly awaited the start of the school year, buoyed by the hope and promise that each year brings anew. For the sixth straight year, I am teaching a unit in non-violent conflict-resolution skills to our fourth graders.

Unfortunately, school violence and guns have become ever-more entwined in our national psyche. While working with students, I can't help but think of my own childhood and the role of guns in my life. As a certified member of the baby boom, I mourn the many dreams that were shattered by firearms throughout my youth. Still, I support the right to bear arms.

I grew up with firearms. By the time I was 10 years old, I had my own target rifle and two shotguns. A normal Sunday morning would find my father and me shooting at the Buffalo Shooting Club in rural Amherst. I enjoyed a privilege shared by very few of my peers. I vividly remember taking my shotgun to school for a report on gun safety. Can you imagine that happening today?

I took numerous NRA-sponsored courses in firearm safety. Most of these classes were mandatory in New York. They were neither restrictive nor prohibitive infringements on the Constitution of the United States. They were reasonable exercises of government regulation designed for the education, safety and well-being of the citizens.

I also remember my father registering his pistols, a legal requirement that he dutifully accepted and routinely fulfilled. As president of the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen Clubs during the early 1960s, he frequently spoke throughout Western New York about gun safety and firearm regulation.

I grew up with the understanding that our right to bear arms was guaranteed by the Constitution. But I also knew that this freedom, like the right to free speech, was not without restrictions.

The ongoing debate and the politicization of gun control have done a gross disservice to our nation. Even as I educate students in peaceful alternatives to violence, they are subjected to a calculated and callous indifference from both sides of the gun debate.

Yes, popular culture is laden with violence. Indeed, families are often adrift. True, civility seems to have disappeared. Sadly, we must look within ourselves for solutions and remedies to these national ills. Fortunately, none of these issues is addressed by the Constitution. We neither want nor need further governmental intrusions and regulations in our personal lives.

However, by virtue of its eminent position within the Constitution, the matter of firearms is an appropriate topic for a genuine national discourse. Both sides must be willing to listen to each other, and more importantly, to the voice of the American people as a whole. Powerful lobbies, posturing politicians and vested interest groups have distracted our attention for far too long. The time has come for actions to speak louder than words.

As a nation, we have a serious, identifiable problem -- we are awash in firearms. New York's firearm regulations are among the most stringent in the nation, and still, they do not provide for an abiding sense of public safety. The time for pointing fingers and affixing blame has long passed. Let us focus on solutions to that problem.

My students understand how to resolve conflicts. Brimming with promise and hope, they both expect and deserve a safe future. Can we offer them anything less than our best effort to secure that future? A limitless freedom is no freedom at all.

BRUCE D. MITCHELL, M.S., is a counselor at Armor Elementary School in Hamburg.
For writer guidelines for columns appearing in this space, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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