"Combining that with the proliferation of very lethal firearms has led to the state where we are now. Almost weekly, we're hearing about some new massacre," Gunn said.
Some in the gun rights lobby criticize people who believe these incidents should be the starting point for community conversations about the ease of accessing firearms, and the availability of certain types of firearms and their access by people struggling with undiagnosed, untreated or poorly treated mental illness, said Burbank.
"No one should be assailed for saying we should have a discussion. That's just as bad taking away your right to own a firearm," he said.
Burbank said police chiefs are particularly concerned about people with mental illness obtaining weapons, although he acknowledges it is difficult to know where to draw the line in restricting access.
To further complicate matters, public resources to assist people struggling with mental illness have become scarce as local governments have tightened their belts during the economic downturn, he said.
National and state lawmakers lack the political will to rein in the proliferation of firearms or curb gun rights, Gunn said.
"To what extent any legislation can prevent a tragedy like this, who can say?" he said.
But Gunn questions the rationale for the need for self-loading weapons for people who say they need them for self protection. These weapons are often used in mass-casualty events, he said.
"I can't see any reason how society is benefitted by allowing individuals to carry and own such firearms," Gunn said.
Aposhian said the Connecticut tragedy highlights the difference between Utah's and Connecticut's concealed carry laws. Permitholders can carry concealed firearms into Utah public schools. Connecticut does not allow the practice.
"In Utah, we can carry guns into schools for this very reason," Aposhian said of the mass shooting. "The only reason we should be able to carry in schools is we're serious about protecting our families, the children in a school and the staff. I bet law enforcement showed up extremely quick yet 27 people died."
Society needs to focus on the state of mind and personal history of the shooter, Aposhian said. Lanza was wearing black military gear and bullet proof vest.
"I think we're going to find in the days to come that there were some tell-tale signals and that family, friends and co-workers knew this kid was definitely off," he said.
Peacock said such incidents stir debates about competing liberties in a free society, including whether there should be more restrictive laws with respect to gun ownership or if existing gun laws enhance safety.
"Arguably, these sorts of incidents are going to exist no matter how many protections there are. There's no way in a free society to prevent these acts of unmitigated evil. That's just the reality of living in a free society," Peacock said.
But the country should take inventory of the societal forces that can enable such events to occur, he said.
"The problem isn't guns in the culture, it's a culture that creates dysfunctional youth that can commit such horrific acts. There's no other word but evil for what they do."
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