Twelve killed at Columbine High in 1999. Thirty-two people murdered at Virginia Tech in 2007. Six killed and 13 wounded, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson, Ariz., last year. Twelve murdered by a gunman in Aurora, Colo., in July.
If there were a tipping point on serious policy to prevent mass killings, the nation should have reached it long ago.
But Friday's massacre in Connecticut -- claiming the lives of 20 elementary school children and seven adults -- has changed the dynamic. More and more elected officials agree that now is the time to confront the root causes of these national tragedies -- easy access to guns, a threadbare mental health safety net, and video games and movies that glorify gun violence.
In comments Friday and Sunday, President Barack Obama made clear he is prepared to seek major gun control measures. The president has his hands full with the "fiscal cliff," but he should seize the moment. Even ardent gun-rights supporters -- such as Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from West Virginia -- have signaled they are prepared to talk about restrictions on certain guns because of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The first need is for Congress to enact a ban on semi-automatic weapons, known as assault rifles, such as the AR-15 model used by Adam Lanza to kill so many of his victims. The law needs to be stronger than the previous federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004 and has lapsed because of lobbying by the National Rifle Association and other groups.
Congress should go further and set up a buy-back program to reduce the legal stockpile of assault weapons. It should require a mandatory background check for all gun purchases, including private sales. It should put limits on rifle magazines, such as 100-round drums that make it easy to spray bullets into a crowd. It should follow California's lead and require a microstamp on each shell so police can more easily trace it back to a particular gun.
Skeptics are correct that no combination of laws can fully prevent a madman from carrying out mass murder. But stronger gun laws -- combined with a less violent media culture and better detection of potential psychopaths -- could undoubtedly save lives.