The horrific Connecticut school shooting that took the lives of 20 children and seven teachers and staff Friday has inevitably triggered another back-and-forth over the need for stronger gun laws.
Before we go there, however, the nation needs to grieve and offer whatever support we can to the loved ones of the victims. Once more facts are established about what may have caused the massacre, we can debate whether anything could have been done to prevent it.
President Barack Obama set the proper tone when he told Americans that he reacted to the horrible news not as president, but as a parent.
"Our hearts are broken today," said Obama, who had to collect himself and wipe away tears when he spoke of the "beautiful, little kids who had their entire lives ahead of them birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own."
"As a country, we have been through this too many times," he added.
Sandy Hook Elementary joins a long list of mass shootings: six killed at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August; 12 dead at the Aurora, Colo., movie theater in July; six killed and 13 wounded, including then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson, Ariz., in January 2011; 32 murdered at Virginia Tech in 2007; 12 students killed at Columbine High in 1999; and on and on.
The president, however, made the important point that children are also being killed on street corners in Chicago, where the daily death toll doesn't often make national headlines. By the end of October, Obama's hometown had already exceeded last year's homicide count with nearly 440.
While homicide rates have declined substantially over the past 20 years, America remains a very violent society compared with other developed nations. In many of these mass shootings, the gunman's mental health is a major factor.
There are sensible measures restricting military weapons that have no real use in the civilian world, for instance, and finding better ways to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and the mentally disturbed that the vast majority of Americans would support, if only their elected representatives had the courage to lead.
"We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," the president rightly said.
But if we follow the usual script, the conversation will be dominated by partisans and their extreme talking points on guns. There will be precious little serious consideration of the complex issues of violence and mental illness. And nothing meaningful will come of all the talk.