Skip to main content

Parents walk away from the Sandy Hook Elementary School with their children following a shooting at the school, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 in Newtown, Conn.Frank Becerra Jr./The Associated Press

On Friday, a gunman killed 26 people, 20 of them "beautiful little kids" – to use President Barack Obama's words – at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. There is something inexorable about the phenomenon of mass shootings in the United States. We have been forced to write about it with tragic regularity for years. We have exhausted adjectives to describe our horror and revulsion. We have stated and restated the problem. It bears repeating:

In the search for answers, perhaps the place to start is to round up what we know. We know that the U.S. has a politicized gun culture that allows people to own high-calibre, rapid-firing automatic weapons, to bring holstered weapons to political rallies and, in many states, to shoot first and ask questions later. We know there is no political will in the U.S. to scale back its gun madness. We know this plays into the hands of disaffected, angry people who see carnage as a means of vengeance or self-expression. We know that most are not postal workers. (21 July, 2012, after the killing of 12 people, and wounding of 58, at a theatre in Aurora, Colo.)

Mass shootings at schools in the United States have become frighteningly common. The U.S. Secret Service even collaborated on a detailed study with the federal Department of Education on how to prevent them. Too bad that changing lax gun laws was beyond the study's purview. (April 17, 2007, after 32 people were killed and 17 others wounded at Virginia Tech University).

After the ritual denunciations, brazen mass shootings in the U.S. typically prompt two responses in the political mainstream. Many demand more, not less, access to guns. Others suggest minor changes to America's gun laws, and no change to America's gun culture. Mr. Obama could have joined that third, small group of advocates, currently lacking political power, calling for real change. Instead, for the moment, he has stuck his head in the sand. Handguns and assault rifles are a blight that make the U.S. one of the world's most murderous societies, on a par with South Africa and Colombia. (Jan. 13, 2011 after the Tucson shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people, killing six.)

Americans should not sleep well knowing that others with similar intentions can go out and purchase handguns so easily. (April 19, 2007, again after Virginia Tech)

On Friday, an emotional Mr. Obama said " As a country we have been through this too many times." He mentioned earlier massacres in Colorado, Oregon and Wisconsin. He promised "meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this." The time for platitudes is past, Mr. President. It's time the U.S. cured its gun sickness.