Newtown, Connecticut, is where families move to keep their children safe.
Only an hour from New York City, the town was founded well before the Revolutionary War. It’s where Scrabble was invented, a stop on the Underground Railroad, home to antique stores, picturesque libraries and good schools.
Now it will be known as the site of the deadliest school shooting in American history.
Evil visited this bucolic town on an otherwise quiet Friday morning, two weeks before Christmas.
Twenty children and six adults were murdered in the halls of the Sandy Hook Elementary school at the hands a 20-year old former student named Adam Lanza whose mother was a teacher there.
As details emerged, the horror grew. Most victims were between the ages of five and 10.
Minutes after ambulances arrived at the school, many turned back empty because there were no lives left to save.
During the slaughter teachers told the surviving students that they needed to be quiet because “a wild animal had gotten loose in the school”. This was innocence shattered and every parents nightmare made real.
When President Obama addressed the nation hours after the attack, the normally cool Chief Executive was moved to tears.
And while his remarks were appropriately focused on love and compassion for the families and the lost children, he also said this: “As a country, we have been through this too many times.
“Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theatre in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighbourhoods are our neighbourhoods and these children are our children.
“And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
America has become almost numb to gun violence in recent years, despite an escalating body count.
More than 200 people have been murdered in mass shootings in the last five years alone – and that’s on top of the 10,000 people killed by guns here each year.
Earlier this week, a 22-year old opened fire in an Oregon shopping mall and killed two people. Television coverage dissipated by the next morning.
But the unusual cruelty of this mass killing should shake the cold certainty of the most hardened guns rights advocate. Kindergartners are not supposed to be gunned down at school.
In a Connecticut town where only one murder had occurred in the past ten years. Only days before Christmas.
America has the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – enshrined in our Constitution. We are not Europe and we will not ban gun ownership, ever.
It is true, as the National Rifle Association says, that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people”. But guns make these mass shootings possible. That’s reality.
Another common denominator in these mass shootings is that they are frequently carried out by a mentally ill young man.
But if these sick souls could not so easily get their hands on multiple weapons with high-capacity cartridges or scores of bullets, often purchased in bulk over the internet, it is possible that they might only have harmed themselves.
Instead, they have the tools to kill everyone in a classroom in less than a minute.
We are always safest when we confront reality. It is time to start a serious civic conversation about what we can do to stem the tide of these mass shootings.
We will never take the risk out of life and we will never stop shootings entirely, just as we will never take way the right to gun ownership. But we can take responsible steps to minimise the risks if we start to answer some tough questions.
Why does driving a car require a test to get a license but owning a gun requires none? Do semi-automatic weapons need to be so prevalent to respect the Second Amendment?
Is limiting the purchase of ammunition the equivalent of restricting gun rights? And what more can we do to screen mentally ill young men and make it more difficult for them to get their hands on guns?
This is a time of sorrow and soul searching. After each of these mass shootings we are told it is not time to have a debate about gun violence in our country. But if not now, when?
We cannot look at this senseless slaughter of children and pretend that we honour their memory by remaining silent and refusing to confront reality.