Knee-jerk reactions to the massacre at a school in Connecticut have been distressing because, in too many cases, they have been displays of what politicians do best - suggest quick, politically correct "fixes" to make it appear government is doing something.
Pleas for more thoughtful, effective action then become sidetracked and, all too often, forgotten.
In Washington, President Barack Obama and some members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, are calling for a new ban on sale of "assault rifles" and high-capacity ammunition clips for guns. Obama has said he wants action on the proposal in January.
Some who have been cool in the past to gun control have suggested that bans on the sale of certain types of guns and ammunition magazines should be discussed. Proponents of gun control have seized upon such comments as alleged proof of some sort of consensus on the issue.
Gun control, mental health issues, school security and all other matters involved in avoiding mass murder of children should be discussed.
Even when attempts to look at the fearful problem of mass murder objectively are made, there is danger they will be diluted into uselessness by the political culture. For example, it has been suggested studying whether there is a link between violent video games and the kind of mental illness that sometimes results in murder. But if history is any guide, this idea will end in a few congressional hearings with celebrity witnesses - and no real insights.
Congress and the White House seem eager to lavish taxpayers' money on research of questionable value. For example, the federal government spent nearly $1 million on a study that found male fruit flies are sexually attracted to young female fruit flies.
Yet has the government ever funded research to determine whether there is a link between the rampage killer mentality and guns designed to look (but not operate) like the military's M-4 and M-16 rifles?
Not to our knowledge.
Everything - including whether a cultural phenomenon beyond government's control is to blame for some mass murders - needs to be on the table. A year or two from now, if another school is invaded by a homicidal maniac, our consciences will not be salved by the thought that in the wake of the Newtown horror, we did something. That's not good enough when our children's lives are at stake.