The horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 27 people — including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the shooter’s mother — dead serves as an unwelcome reminder of how cruel and indifferent life can be.

Anytime a senseless act of violence takes innocent lives, it’s a tragedy; but when children are among the victims, it puts the crime on another level. These kids had their whole lives ahead of them. They had birthday parties to attend, friendships to build, dreams to chase, failures to learn from and future children of their own to raise. They had yet to go on their first dates, attend their first high school dances, tangle with their parents during their turbulent adolescent years, meet their first loves, work their first jobs, own their first cars and meet their future husbands or wives.  

And that’s what makes this crime so horrific — these children were taken long before their time. Parents should never have to visit the graves of their own children. That’s just not the way it’s supposed to work.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, I have switched my position on the federal assault weapons ban — it should be implemented and made permanent. Whatever qualms I originally had about the ban possibly impeding citizens’ Second Amendment Rights has been superseded by the urgent need to do whatever it takes to quell the chilling level of gun violence in this country. Other steps that should be taken to decrease gun violence, especially mass shootings, include banning high-capacity magazines and closing the “Gun Show Loophole” that allows dealers to sell guns to Americans without doing a background check on them. Despite its nickname, this dangerous loophole not only allows guns to be bought at guns shows without a background check, but also through classified newspaper ads and on the Internet. That’s insane and terribly irresponsible. That this loophole exists illustrates how much some politicians fear the power of the National Rifle Association.

As for the NRA’s proposal to have armed police officers in every school, I don’t think such a measure alone would be enough to prevent future tragedies. Furthermore, any decisions about policies that place armed officers inside schools should be made at the local level.  

While there’s no hard evidence that a mental illness played a role in inducing the 20-year-old shooter to commit his heinous acts, there is a real need to reform the U.S. mental health system. While people with mental disorders are no more likely than anyone else to commit violent acts — often they are the victims — some can be dangerous when not on medication or when under the influence of alcohol. As someone who has struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the too-frequently inadequate treatment — if they are being treated at all — of people with mental disorders is something that troubles me deeply. While my condition has vastly improved through the years, many people with severe mental disorders are living on the streets or languishing away in jail cells. Is this really the best this country can do for some of its most vulnerable citizens?

While it’s true none of us can be protected from every deranged individual in the world, no matter how many laws are crafted for this very purpose, that doesn’t mean we should settle for the status quo. Stronger gun control laws combined with an improved mental health system won’t end gun violence, but such actions would represent a step in the right direction.

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/