Policies must change to curb gun violence.

Another mass shooting has rocked a community and the nation.

When a 20-year-old gunman barged into a Connecticut elementary school Friday and opened fire, he left 20 children ages 6 or 7 dead. Each child was shot multiple times.

The shooter also killed several adults and eventually himself.

Such incidents of madmen targeting people in schools, movie theaters, shopping malls and other public places continue to haunt the nation. A common thread has been in disturbed individuals with powerful firearms capable of killing multiple people in moments.

And now, in the wake of the massacre in Connecticut, we're again locked in heated debate over what to do in a country with the highest rate of gun ownership in the world a nation where "lockdown" drills have become a fact of life in schools.

Surely the latest shooting rampage will spur the kind of meaningful discussion that addresses shortcomings in both gun laws and assistance for the mentally ill.

And let's hope a powerful gun lobby that covets gun ownership will acknowledge the need for change in a nation where guns of all kinds too often end up in the wrong hands, and leave many innocent children and adults dead or wounded.

For one, an assault-weapon ban that expired in 2004 must be reinstated. Such killing machines may have a place in the military and law enforcement, but nowhere else.

It's also troubling that background checks required by federally licensed gun dealers don't apply to all private sellers making firearms available at gun shows and other venues. Such screenings should be mandatory for all.

As for intervening in situations where people suffer from mental illness, the current system is woefully inadequate. Waiting lists for help already are common, yet lawmakers still see fit to slash public funding for those services.

That in itself is tragic.

When it comes to gun violence, surely we can do better than accepting a status quo that isn't working.

And if the grim reality of bullet-riddled, lifeless bodies of 20 young children and others on an elementary school floor isn't enough to convince people that more must be done, what will it take?