A nation weeps.
At 9:30 a.m., a man in his 20s walks into an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., where his mother taught and proceeds to shoot and kill the equivalent of a filled classroom of people, most of them young children. It is the most senseless, most heinous, most hellish act imaginable.
In our offices, our homes or wherever there is a TV set turned to a news outlet, we watch this crime scene and hear the speculation, the shock and horror and finally the gruesome details. Is there a person alive who can hear this without tears, without a knot in the stomach, without anger, without a profound sense of loss?
For a day, we are Newtown. We imagine our own children huddled in closets or running down hallways. These are children no older than 10. They are scared, they are confused. How would our own kids deal with such absolute terror? How would we, if we knew a loved one was inside that building?
President Barack Obama grew tearful talking about the incident at the White House. "Our hearts are broken today," he said reading from a prepared statement. And "we have been through this too many times."
He is, of course, correct. Not just in schools in places like Fairfield County, Connecticut, or Colorado's Columbine High School so many years ago. And not just in crowded theaters in Colorado or shopping centers in Arizona or Oregon more recently.
But on the street corners of Baltimore. Outside convenience stores or inside our homes. In cities, suburbs and rural towns. Everywhere across the United States, gun violence is like a plague on our society.
President Obama advised that we hug our children a little tighter and remind them how much we love them. And he asked for prayers not only for those who lost loved ones but for the survivors who must deal with their "loss of innocence."
"I will do everything within my power as president to help," he said.
The details of the shooting continue to unfold, and much about the alleged shooter, his circumstances and his motivations will be better understood in the coming days. But this much we know for certain: We can't continue to turn a blind eye to gun violence. We can't continue to sit passively and do nothing about the proliferation of guns.
Easy access to such powerful weapons — by criminals, the mentally ill or others who have no business possessing them — helps make these tragedies possible. Gun control is not the only solution to gun violence, but it is a part of the solution that has been ignored too long.
Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney had little to say on the topic of guns during the recent campaign. Their silence was shameful. Perhaps this tragedy will allow the public to have that much-needed conversation about where the lines should be drawn. What did Mr. Obama say? "I will do everything within my power."
After the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., gun control opponents suggested that armed theater-goers might have fared better. Would they arm teachers? Principals? Bus drivers? Classroom aides? Would they lock up all schools and day care centers like military compounds? Station armed guards at the entrances? Keep snipers in the trees?
Or would they possibly consider whether taking reasonable steps to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people might not be prudent? Not as an assault on the Second Amendment but as a way of balancing the rights of people — and children.
Before these victims are forgotten, before the last young innocent is lowered into his or her grave, America needs to examine, as one sportscaster so infamously said during a recent Kansas City Chiefs football game, its "gun culture." It's time our elected leaders found the guts to challenge the National Rifle Association and the political status quo on this important issue.