But even with that sad knowledge, grief was a more alien thing to most of us who didn't live in those neighborhoods and didn't understand the "don't snitch" culture that holds people hostage to garden-variety criminality. Black voices asked us why we were so shocked at the death of the Newtown children but didn't flinch at the murders of black children, and we legitimately answered: Because this is beyond the normal madness of the city streets. This comes from another place altogether.
The systematic extermination of 20 little children waiting for Santa is proof that the rules we used to play by and the expectations we used to have are shattered. Fair or not, humane or not, we always believed that if you lived in a certain part of the country, death would not come to take you prematurely. But we have seen that this is no longer the case, and that death no longer plays favorites among the zip codes. Finally, it is the great equalizer.
So the professional parents with the jobs in Manhattan are just as vulnerable, now, as the single mother raising three kids in the projects. This is the new reality, and it is one that Adam Lanza and his despicable brothers at Columbine, Nickel Mines, Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colo., have given us.
When reality changes, you can't simply throw a tantrum and say, "This is not how I want it to be, dammit!" You adapt. You don't cling to your esoteric rights and dare other people to strip them from you. You don't pretend that the mentally ill are all benign and pitiful victims who need to be protected from the horrible, bigoted world around them. You also don't start making ridiculous, apocalyptic statements about the government seizing your weapons and waging war against the noble citizen.
What we need now are people of good faith and without political agendas coming together to write an appropriate epitaph for those martyred babies and their courageous teachers. We don't need Joe Biden strutting around the national stage pretending to be relevant and shoving his pieties in the faces of those he disdains.
More importantly, we didn't need Wayne LaPierre standing tall while young bodies were still warm and unburied and raging on about how the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Say that to the families of all of the police officers who have been gunned down by criminals with assault-style weapons.
Count me as someone who believes in the Second Amendment and who thinks that the sophists out there who try to say it applies only to people wearing tri-corner hats and bearing muskets are blind, stupid or dishonest. To be truly free, a citizen needs to have the wherewithal to protect himself from enemies. Just because some people misuse the weapons we all have a right to bear doesn't mean that we need to limit everyone to a pop gun and some water pistols.
That said, I can no longer abide the people who look me in the face and tell me that there is no such thing as an assault weapon - or, rather, that all weapons are assault weapons. There is a huge difference between walking into a school with a handgun, and walking into a school with a military-style arsenal.
A majority of NRA members are fair, intelligent and recognize the importance of reasonable gun control. Many support a ban on semiautomatic weapons. But the leadership is tone-deaf to the Newton reality, as are the conspiracy theorists who think the tragedy was staged to trump up antigun fervor. It is true that there will always be people out there willing to milk any tragedy for their own agenda. Abortion-rights supporters did it when George Miller was murdered. It's human nature to take advantage, and people aren't above using other people's grief to make their points.
But this time, it's different.
Mr. LaPierre, welcome to the new reality.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.