Why is it that the most powerful nation on earth cannot protect its children, we asked after the horror of the latest massacre of kids in America? How can we explain it to our children? We tell them there are some bad people in the world who do bad things but that the world is about more than this. We tell them that because we dare not tell them the truth.
Most of us who have lived in America know the truth, however. We know that it's about political cowardice. The stark truth is that America is afraid to take on the National Rifle Association ( NRA) and its fellow travellers who infect the country with weapons and call it a right, a right more powerful than the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The gunman in the Connecticut shooting blasted his way into the elementary school and then sprayed the children with bullets, hitting some of them as many as 11 times. The children – 12 girls and eight boys – were all six or seven years old.
As news broke of the massacre, I was decorating our Christmas tree with my young daughter. I turned the news off immediately because I didn't want her to hear it and I didn't want to hear it myself.
I lived for two decades among American families like those now so cruelly bereaved. I feel I know them, I know how much they love their children, as we do ours. How unbearable their grief. How angry they feel, how enraged, how impotent because this should not happen to their children in the most advanced nation on earth.
Yet it has happened so many times before. The figures are grim: at least 200 students dead in more than 20 school shootings over the last 20 years. In 1992, the year that Adam Lanza, the Newtown gunman, was born a school attack in Lindhurst, California, killed four students.
When Adam Lanza was seven years old, in 1999, another 12 students were killed in Columbine, Colorado. When Adam Lanza was 15, in 2007, another 32 were killed in Virginia Tech. This year, when Adam Lanza was 20 he killed another 20 kids none older than seven.
Of course, any killing, unless mitigated by self defence, is savage but the killing of kids is more than monstrous. And while Americans have seen many mass shootings in the past two decades, the victims have rarely been so young and rarely has the heroism of those who died trying to save them so underlined the nobility of what it can mean to be human.
So there will be prayers, as there should be, there will be candlelight vigils and there will be makeshift memorials, as there have been in California, in Columbine, in Virginia, in dozens of other states.
It is not that gun violence is unique to America. There have been horrific school killings in a number of other countries including, Canada (14 in 1989); UK (18 in 1996); Germany (17 in 2002 and 16 in 2009); Finland (11 in 2008). But in no other democratic country is access to almost every kind of lethal weapon as unfettered as it is in the US, where in some states guns are as easy to buy in supermarkets as tea or coffee.
The oft-quoted second amendment to the US constitution guarantees the right to bear arms and in America it would be naive to think that could ever be amended. But it is entirely reasonable and absolutely necessary for America to put brakes on this right – to have background checks, to ensure disturbed people do not get guns, to limit the kind of weapons that can be bought.
Having guns freely, easily and cheaply available to sick, unstable people is essentially facilitating potential massacres. What good is the right to bear arms in the second amendment if its very existence negates the right to life and liberty protected under the 14th? It is time for Americans to elect politicians who will uphold that right to life. Or are all those massacres just an acceptable price to pay?
I was working with Reuters in the US the morning of the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999, and we thought as its horrific violence unfolded it would change everything. It changed nothing.
It will only be a matter of time before "societal breakdown" is cited now as it was then. And the NRA will go on blocking gun-control in a country of 300 million that has roughly the same number of guns.
And if the NRA does not succeed with its lethal agenda it will ensure those politicians who dare to impede it will not be re-elected. That's what happened to democrats who voted for the Brady Bill's limited controls and an assault-weapons ban during Bill Clinton's first term in the mid-1990s.
Or will it be different this time? Not unless US President Barack Obama unleashes a force more powerful than that of the NRA – an army of politicians with a sweeping gun-control mandate, elected by Americans who care about their children.
Your words and your tears, however moving, are not enough any more, Mr President. Now it's time to lead. All presidents want a legacy. This should be yours.