As a nation, we watched the unimaginable unfold over the weekend as we learned the details of the killing spree that left 20 small children and six adults dead in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school Friday.
As a nation, we will try to understand this horrific event. Maybe we'll even pull together the political will to try to prevent the next mass shooting.
Already there is talk about revisiting gun laws and restricting access to the kinds of weapons that can make random shootings by disturbed individuals so devastating.
For any meaningful progress to be made, the hard lines on both sides of this issue will have to soften. Liberals will have to stop pretending that the Second Amendment doesn't say what it says. And gun enthusiasts will have to acknowledge that there are limits to all of our freedoms and that some measures - such as requiring background checks by all sellers at gun shows - just make sense.
We also need to look at the way we treat mental illness in this country.
Incidents of mass violence have increased while we have cut funding for treating the mentally ill. Families of disturbed, potentially violent young men often feel that they are on their own, that they have been failed by the medical, mental health and law enforcement communities.
And as we look for ways to prevent such tragic killings in the future, we should look at the broader issue of gun violence, and also look closer to home.
What if those 20 children had died from gun violence one at a time, over the course of a year? The situation would be just as tragic. Each family would be just as devastated.
But it is likely that the rest of the nation would be paying less attention.
Because that's what is happening throughout the country. That's what's happening here.
Atlantic County has seen 28 people die violently this year, many of them teenagers or young adults.
An 18-year-old was found shot to death in Atlantic City on Dec. 2., one of five people killed in the county in just four days.
Pleasantville recently saw three homicides within 24 hours, including two teenagers who died by gunfire on Dec. 5.
If all those deaths happened at once, they would rivet our attention.
Many of these killings involve young men who seem steeped in a culture of violence and who have shockingly easy access to guns. They, too, should be part of the national conversation.
It may be comforting to think that what happened at the Sandy Hook elementary school is an aberration, an extremely rare and unlikely event. And, in some ways, it is.
But to find solutions to the problem of gun violence, we have to remember that such tragedies are happening, in slow motion, all around us.