We are finally having a conversation about gun control. President Obama is talking. So are Sens. Joe Manchin and Mark Warner, both with A ratings from the mostly silent NRA. Said Manchin: "Everything should be on the table." Broadcaster and former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough said the murders in Newtown "changed everything."

This is what it takes to get America serious: 20 first graders massacred with six female educators, at a school, where all children should be safe.

"People think we have a violence problem in the United States, but we really don't. We're an average country in terms of all the violence," said Harvard public health expert David Hemenway. "We have a lot more guns," and "by far the most permissive gun-control laws, the weakest gun policies, of any country. It's not even close."

America is armed to the teeth, with as many guns as there are citizens. We tick off the locations of recent gun-related massacres - Columbine, Aurora, Newtown - like they're Civil War battlefields.

Gun violence remains a public safety and health issue. This country strictly regulates tobacco, food, and automobiles. We're tougher about regulating toy guns, making sure they don't choke children, than real ones that murdered 20 students in 10 minutes. In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, air travel rules were massively overhauled, resulting in long lines and copious complaints but not a single subsequent attack.

An emotionally unstable man armed with an assault weapon is a terrorist.

This week, schools all over our country initiated plans in the event of another Newtown, planning for the unthinkable after the unthinkable happened.

But educators at Sandy Hook Elementary appear to have done everything right: drills, a security system, locked doors when Adam Lanza approached the school. Plans didn't stop the massacre.

The NRA, with more than four million members and a $300 million budget, has been allowed to hijack our gun conversation, mostly by bullying and supporting Republican officials and pro-gun Democrats. But the NRA doesn't act alone. There should be stronger regulation of firearms and ammo manufacturers, who heavily finance the NRA and profit by selling more products.

Gun laws continue to defy logic. The day before the Newtown massacre, Michigan legislators passed a bill that would allow owners to carry concealed weapons in schools Fortunately, Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed it Tuesday. More than 20 states permit loaded weapons in bars and restaurants serving alcohol.

Pennsylvania's two senators, both with high NRA ratings, offered no specifics on stemming America's epic gun violence. Democrat Bob Casey, who recently opposed gun-control legislation, echoed Manchin, saying "everything should be on the table," but he didn't mention assault weapons. He should do more. We should demand better.

Smart gun-control initiatives are unlikely to emerge from the pistol-whipped Pennsylvania legislature, which consistently opposes allowing Philadelphia and other cities to impose stricter legislations, including a benign law requiring lawful owners to report stolen and missing firearms. Last year, the commonwealth enacted the "castle doctrine," allowing licensed gun owners to use deadly force in their homes or "any place where they have a legal right to be," and shielding them from civil lawsuits.

Let's renew the assault-weapon ban, which expired in 2004. Let's close the gun-show loophole, which allows purchases without background checks. We should ban high-capacity gun magazines, a bill Sen. Frank Lautenberg plans to introduce. We should learn from Australia, which, after a 1996 rampage, instituted strict laws and a buyback plan that resulted in far fewer gun homicides.

If we don't take action, seize this moment, Newtown will happen again.

Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter at @kheller.