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U.S. President Barack Obama grieves as he walks from the rostrum after speaking at a vigil held at Newtown High School for families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters

This is a moment on gun control that cries out for leadership from President Barack Obama. Twenty American children sitting in school have just been shredded like soldiers in foxholes by bullets from a military-style assault weapon. President Obama needs to do everything he can to rally Americans and their elected representatives behind a ban on these ridiculous killing machines. If the protection of small children from lethal gunfire is not sufficient cause for Mr. Obama to spend his leadership capital, what is?

Vice-President Joseph Biden caught the moment well: "There is nothing that has pricked the consciousness of the American people . . . more than the image people have of little six-year-old kids riddled – not shot, but riddled, riddled – with bullet holes in their classroom."

There is no telling when another moment like this one will come along on gun control.

No country should take half measures after its children are mowed down, as they were in Newtown, Conn., last month, when a homicidal 20-year-old nearly ran out of bodies to shoot before he ran out of bullets. Some bodies had 11 bullets in them.

No country should wait to act – as the U.S. waited – after a movie-theatre massacre of young people in Colorado last summer, again featuring an assault weapon in a starring role. On an audiotape, 20 shots are heard in about 20 seconds.

The right to bear arms does not imply the right to drive a tank down Main Street. Who needs such guns? People who wish to riddle others with bullets.

The National Rifle Association says, "Our leaders do not believe that their legal choices of firearms should be dictated by a homicidal maniac in Connecticut." This is a moment to challenge the NRA's hold on the United States.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden will present Mr. Obama with an agenda for new gun controls. There will be several important measures: background checks on (we hope) all gun buyers; an end (we trust) to the ludicrous restrictions on gun-related research by federal agencies; and lower limits on magazine capacity. Those are good, as far as they go. But Mr. Obama, who cried real tears in public over the children's deaths in Connecticut, now needs to speak forcefully for real change.