Twenty first-graders -- 12 girls and eight boys, innocents by definition -- were mowed down in the insane fire of a semiautomatic assault rifle. Four teachers, a school psychologist and the principal died trying to save their young charges. The shooter's mother was also a victim.
We must stop the madness. On NBC-TV Sunday, former Education Secretary William Bennett said schools might consider arming certain workers as a way to prevent attacks. The psychologist and principal in both lunged at the shooter. Bennett said: "I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed and ready for this kind of thing."
That's not an acceptable answer -- not in a society that puts astonishingly few restrictions on the fast-growing proliferation of lethal weaponry. The semiautomatic rifle used in Newtown was the same kind of weapon our soldiers use in Afghanistan. It was used in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater slaughter in July and in the rampage at an Oregon shopping mall earlier this month. It is considered the most popular rifle in the country.
The epidemic of mass shootings in our public places will not be stopped by the person with the fastest draw or the best arsenal or the truest aim. It will only be stopped when we rely on common sense and sharply reduce the proliferation of semiautomatic firearms and large magazines of ammunition.
Until Newtown, the chances of this happening, or even being discussed, didn't look strong. The issue merited little more than a peep in the presidential campaign. And weeks ago, a law took effect in Oklahoma allowing licensed firearms carriers -- 141,000 people there -- to openly take weapons into stores, banks and other public places. Some places have been debating whether to permit firearms in churches and on college campuses.
Our public discussion of guns and their regulation has been veering into a dark and dangerous place. If nothing else, the violence that erupted in Newtown has reminded many Americans that a proliferation in our society of weapons designed to kill many people as quickly as possible doesn't make us safer. It makes us more vulnerable. And this insanity has to stop. President Obama, who ran in 2008 on a promise to ban assault weapons, must now turn the tears into steel and lead the nation. He said Sunday night that Newtown was the fourth time in his presidency he has traveled to the site of a mass shooting: "We can't tolerate this any more. These tragedies must end."
It's worth remembering that there have been other moments like this -- after the political assassinations of the 1960s and after the wounding of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Legislation is passed, years go by, the National Rifle Association, among others, steps up its lobbying and the nation winds up back where it started.
Obama was right when he said, "We can't accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say we're powerless in the face of such carnage?"
The overwhelming emotion of today is not necessarily permanent. Americans need to push back hard against the gun lobby. Starting now.