We are not helpless to stop the massacre of innocent children. We must begin — today, right now, this minute — taking guns out of the hands of madmen, and the first step should be a ban on military-style assault weapons such as the rifle used to turn a Connecticut school into a slaughterhouse.

That won’t be enough to end all the carnage, but it will save some lives. It is admirable that President Obama, members of Congress and other elected officials are deeply horrified and saddened by what happened Friday in Newtown. But the moment calls for action, not words, and politicians who are too craven or stupid or ideologically rigid to finally move forward on gun control will have the blood of future victims on their hands.

We must begin with the guns.

Yes, there are other factors that play their roles in these mass shootings. We need to talk about mental health issues. We need to explore why the assassin is always a troubled young man whose alienation was noticed by others but not adequately addressed. We need to examine the impact of hyper-violent video games on impressionable minds. We need to remember that horrors such as Columbine, Blacksburg, Aurora, Tucson and Newtown are statistically insignificant compared to the everyday bloodshed on our streets and in our homes.

But we have to start somewhere. If we wait for a perfect, comprehensive, foolproof solution, we’ll do nothing. Tough, effective, nationwide gun control is the most effective single initiative we could undertake, and shame on us if we wait another month, another week, another day.

The National Rifle Association and other apologists for murder will object, of course. They will say that Connecticut’s gun control laws are already among the nation’s toughest, and yet failed to prevent Adam Lanza from annihilating 20 children, six adults, his mother and himself. Therefore, these sophists will argue, gun control doesn’t work.

What a crock. The truth is that gun control is ineffective because laws considered “tough” are, in reality, tragically weak.

There is no reason an everyday citizen needs to possess a Bushmaster AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle — the gun used not only in Newtown but in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shootings and as recently as last week in a deadly shooting at a shopping mall near Portland, Ore. At the very least, these high-powered weapons developed for use by soldiers, not hunters, should be outlawed — and surrendered to authorities for destruction.

Lanza’s mother had several other guns in her arsenal, and because of the Second Amendment, it is hard to imagine legislation that could have eliminated all of them. But she knew her 20-year-old son had profound psychological problems. She should at least have been required to keep her weapons under lock and key, securely out of his reach.

If you buy a gun for “protection,” it probably will never be fired in anger. There is almost no chance you will ever use it to defend yourself against an intruder. Much more likely than the home-invasion scenario is that you will use the weapon on yourself or someone you know — or that someone else in the household will use it, perhaps on himself or herself, perhaps on you.

That some right-wing lawmakers and commentators have responded to Newtown by calling for teachers, principals and campus security guards to be armed is beyond obscene — and beneath contempt. More guns, with amateurs firing every which way, surely would have meant more dead children and more grieving families.

“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” Obama said Sunday at the Newtown memorial service, the fourth such sad ceremony he has attended during his four years in office.

“These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change,” Obama said. “We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.”

We can and we must. We should begin with a strict assault weapons ban. Here are 20 reasons why:

Charlotte Bacon, 6. Daniel Barden, 7. Olivia Engel, 6. Josephine Gay, 7. Dylan Hockley, 6. Madeleine Hsu, 6. Catherine Hubbard, 6. Chase Kowalski, 7. Jesse Lewis, 6. Anna Marquez-Greene, 6. James Mattioli, 6. Grace McDonnell, 7. Emilie Parker, 6. Jack Pinto, 6. Noah Pozner, 6. Caroline Previdi, 6. Jessica Rekos, 6. Avielle Richman, 6. Benjamin Wheeler, 6. Allison Wyatt, 6.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.

© 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

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