Mass shootings are, unfortunately, neither uncommon nor confined to the United States. The most recent one in Newtown, Connecticut, though, is particularly hard to bear.
The details of the attack that led to the slaughter of 20 innocent first-graders - one child was shot up to 11 times - and six adults are gut-wrenching, and you just wonder what could possibly be done to bring even a bit of comfort to the parents of those killed. I doubt there really is anything.
It's a sort of morbid, never-ending cycle of evil. Some lunatic who "was always very bright but kept mainly to himself" goes berserk and, for whatever reason, decides to kill as many people as he can. The news media flock to the crime scene, politicians speak of how horrified they are, candlelight vigils are held by a shellshocked community then, everyone not directly impacted by the tragedy returns to their regular routines - till it all happens again. It's sickening.
One day after the Connecticut massacre, a 42-year-old man was arrested in California after firing up to 50 rounds in a mall, sending shoppers into panic.
While these kinds of shootings have happened in different parts of the world, our friends in the United States seem to be having a particularly hard time of it. You'd think that the nation that so readily declares itself the greatest on Earth would have moved more decisively to prevent this sort of thing. They surely have had enough time and suffered enough heartbreak.
Minutes after this most recent tragedy, which, by the way, happened three days after a mall shooting in Oregon, the debate on guns in the US started - again. It's a fascinating thing to observe. On the one hand, you have those who say that while guns shouldn't be banned across the board, there is no practical reason for civilians to own high-powered, military-style automatic weapons. Those should be outlawed. Gun-control advocates suggest, also, that tighter measures be put in place to check the backgrounds of anyone trying to buy a gun, and for there to be limits on the number of weapons a person can legally own.
Now while this seems like a fair, logical argument, there is, of course, opposition. On the other side of the debate are those who say, let the guns be free, we have a right to own them. They refer to their constitution and dare anyone to try to dishonour it and its perceived gun-friendly amendment. They need the guns for hunting, they say, or for protection. No more laws or restrictions for them.
You wonder, though, if hunters really need weapons that can fire dozens of rounds without needing to be reloaded, and if having a gun in the house actually makes you safer. The Newtown killer's mother owned the guns he used in his rampage. From early reports, she was the first person he killed.
The debate often gets heated and ugly and that's what's happening right now. Public figures like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, CNN's Piers Morgan, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who have spoken out about guns since the Newtown massacre, are being abused online by fanatical gun lovers in the media. Given the tone of the debate, it doesn't seem like anything's going to change.
"We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years," said a tearful President Barack Obama last Friday. He expressed what seemed like genuine pain at the murder of the children and offered condolences to their families. While the president's intentions clearly were noble, much more than comforting words will be required of him.
Obama is right that we've done this too often before, and it's time he demonstrated real leadership on the matter of guns in America. He has expended great effort, with varying levels of success, on other issues, but has been inexcusably weak on gun control.
Powerful or not, the National Rifle Association will have to be boldly challenged, and since he's not up for re-election, the president would do well to make this a priority for the rest of his tenure in the White House.
Robert Lalah is assistant editor - features, and author of the popular Tuesday feature, 'Roving with Lalah'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com