I spent part of Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the Douglas Ridge Rifle Club doing interviews and taking pictures for a story, and even fired a few rounds through a handgun.

Several hours later, the unthinkable happened. A 22-year-old man walked into Clackamas Town Center and began shooting, killing two people and himself by the time it was done.

This hit home for me, as it did for thousands of Oregonians in Clackamas County and the Portland metro area. I had been at that mall just a few days prior so my 4-year-old son could get his picture taken with Santa.

Scott JorgensenThe Clackamas shooting came on the heels of a highly publicized Dec. 1 incident in which Kansas City Chiefs football player Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend before committing suicide in front of his coaches and police at Arrowhead Stadium.

Days later, on Friday, Dec. 14, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 people, including 20 young children.

In the aftermath, advocates for gun control began using the episodes as examples of why our nation’s policies should be reformed.

Gun control is another one of those polarizing issues that comes up nearly every election cycle. It's been a political football for quite some time.

But there are other outside factors involved in the debate that I feel are worth mentioning.

In his autobiography, My Life, former president Bill Clinton singles out gun control as one of the reasons why Al Gore lost the 2000 election.

Suspected Florida shenanigans aside, Clinton wrote that the election never would have come down to that state if Gore had been able to carry Tennessee or Arkansas.

Tennessee, of course, is Gore’s home state, and Arkansas is Clinton’s.

The reason for that, Clinton wrote, was that Gore had taken a stance in favor of gun control. The politically powerful National Rifle Association took note, and made it a point to remind voters in those southern states of Gore’s position.

Tragedies such as these should, however, serve as a reminder of the lack of adequate mental health help available to most Americans.

We’ve spent decades as a nation building more prisons and passing mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the name of public safety.

The crime rate has gradually gone down as a result, but there are social consequences to all of this as well, including a substantially high prison population that continues to grow.

When I was reporting in Josephine County, I covered the establishment of a mental health court in that area.

Many officials in the criminal justice system felt that several people kept ending up in and out of revolving jail doors who didn’t really belong there. These cases kept clogging the courts because there was little else that could be done with them.

Ultimately, there are far too many people walking around suffering silently as the whirlwind of daily life gets faster and faster. Some of them need help, immediately, and aren’t receiving it. This needs to change.

These incidents should also serve as a reminder that even at its worst, life is precious. We must live every moment of every day as best we can, and take advantage of every opportunity to cling to our loved ones.

Holidays are tough times for people who are having difficulties coping with life’s complicated realities. Let’s do everything we can to make life easier for each other, even people we don’t already know. A smile given to a stranger, or kind words spoken to anyone, can make all the difference in the world.

At the end of the day, we’re all in this life together. We should resolve, in the new year, to take those extra steps to make it as pleasant as possible for everyone we encounter. In so doing, we might just make this a better place for all of us and spread the happiness and joy that everybody deserves to have in their lives.

As we’ve seen, the lack of those things can drive people to do horrific and violent acts. But we, as a society, need to take the time to appreciate the things that we do have.

That includes friends, family and the hope that no matter how bleak life may look at times, it does get better. Sometimes, we just need a little help getting there, and all we have is each other.

So let’s make the most of it, and get started right away.

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