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.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., may well become a sort of "poster lawmaker" for such action. On Monday, he suggested that bans on sale of certain types of guns and ammunition magazines should be discussed. And because Manchin has been a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights, proponents of gun control have seized upon his comments as alleged proof of some sort of consensus on the issue.
But Manchin has protested his position is being taken out of context. What he said was that gun control, mental health issues, school security and all other matters involved in avoiding mass murder of children should be discussed. He is right - and everything he said should be listened to by Obama and Manchin's fellow members of Congress.
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, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, also D-W.Va., has 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, Rockefeller's 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.
Manchin is right. 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.