In Newtown, Conn., shock and grief set in after the shootings Friday. (Jessica Hill / Associated…)
Do we know whether the gunman who killed 20 elementary school children and six adults obtained his weapons through legitimate means? Not yet. Would gun registration have made a difference? Unclear so far. Is it a coincidence that Newtown, Conn., the town where the shooting took place -- a small, picturesque and usually ultra-safe place -- is also the home of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which describes itself as the "trade association for the firearms industry"? Probably.
So is it too early to talk about the need for better gun regulation? Not to me. Up to now, gun enthusiasts have said the problem isn't that some bad people are walking around with guns; it's that too few good guys are equally armed. If guns aren't allowed at colleges, there will be more campus shootings, they contend. A few armed patrons at the Aurora, Colo., shootings during a showing of the newest Batman movie would have been a better solution to violence than tighter rules over who can buy guns and how quickly.
Mass shootings aren't the extreme, unthinkable rarity they used to be, though things have reached an unspeakable pass when our youngest students cannot be safe in their classrooms. What were the parents supposed to do, arm their third-graders?
PHOTOS: Connecticut school shooting
Certainly, there might be some new safety precautions as a result of Newtown. In some schools, teachers close the door for each class and lock it; people outside must knock to be allowed in. Maybe, as much as we hate it, it's time to think about doing that in all of our classrooms and all of our schools. But a lot of thought must be given to how willing we are to imprison ourselves for the sake of protecting ourselves. Walls around every public school campus? A reversal of policies that have invited the public to use school facilities for recreation and meetings?
Crazed, unimaginable violence against innocents doesn't happen just in our country, and it doesn't happen only with guns. As the story in Connecticut unfolded, so, simultaneously, did the news of a knife-wielding man in China who slashed close to a dozen children as they were arriving at their primary school.
But the close-up attack of a knife is more difficult to carry off on large numbers of people than the mass slaying of children by a terrible person wielding guns. Guns are strictly regulated in China. Many children were injured in the China attack, but no one died, though children have died during a string of similar attacks in the past. But not as many as died in a single horrific event in Newtown.
TIMELINE: Deadliest U.S. mass shootings
The United States will never regulate guns that tightly. Our Constitution forbids it. But that doesn't mean we can't do more to keep guns out of hands that shouldn't hold them.
In an attempt to avoid turning a tragic event into an opportunity to talk about a political and societal debate, President Obama said that this wasn't the day to talk about gun control. I can't think of a more important day to do it.
Stem cell conflicts
The 'animus' of Justice Scalia
Slideshow: Worst insults to women in 2012