One year ago Saturday, horror united us.

We froze in our pre-holiday tracks, stomachs and jaws dropping, at news that 20 first-graders and six educators had been shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. No matter our politics or feelings about guns, we all hugged our loved ones tighter that night.

But soon we parted ways again, as calls for tighter gun control were met with calls to protect constitutional rights, and accusations of hard-heartedness were met with accusations of political opportunism.

Several states enacted tough new gun laws this year, but Congress did not pass any. Business boomed for lobbyists and the gun industry, as firearm deaths mounted, whether from mass shootings like the one at the Washington Navy Yard or from the all-too-common violence in troubled cities like Oakland.

Now, California nears its own awful anniversary: It'll be 25 years ago next month since five children died and 29 more were wounded at Stockton's Cleveland Elementary, inspiring the state's first-in-the-nation assault-weapons law.

But the nation is still arguing about whether the blood of Newtown's children should compel us to address the Bushmaster .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle that Adam Lanza carried in his hands, or the illness he carried in his brain.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said the reaction of lawmakers was "wholly, fully and completely ineffective."


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"You never let a tragedy go to waste ... so they pulled off the shelf all of the gun-control things they always wanted to pass," he said. "We tried to tell them that you need to go after the people with mental issues, because all of these other things only affect law-abiding citizens. And our words fell upon deaf ears."

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg -- a longtime champion of mental health treatment who shepherded a raft of gun-control bills this year -- agreed that the issue should be part of the discussion, but said gun-rights advocates use it "rather cynically" as a smoke screen.

"The truth is we need both: more robust mental health services nationally, in addition to reasonable measures to reduce gun violence," said Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "It's not either-or."

For both sides, however, Newtown was a turning point.

"We got calls from 30 different states interested in introducing legislation" after Newtown, said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "That was an absolute watershed change from years past."

Twenty-one states enacted some sort of gun-control laws this year. And even though only a third of those took truly significant steps, the action by state lawmakers was "really quite amazing," said Laura Cutilletta, the group's senior staff attorney.

But the legislative knife cut both ways: 39 new state laws tightened gun controls, while 70 loosened them, according to The New York Times.

"We can't have a patchwork system," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "Now it's time for Congress to follow the lead" of the states.

Days after Newtown, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi named Rep. Mike Thompson, a combat veteran and avid hunter, as her point man on gun issues.

The Napa Democrat dryly notes that polls show more support for his bipartisan background-check bill -- the House version of a bill that failed in the Senate in April -- than for capitalism, vacations and Italian food.

"Any member of Congress who tells you they're worried about how it'll play in their district -- well, no pun intended, they're not shooting straight with you," he said. "There's just no reason not to take it up. It's pro-Second Amendment. It doesn't prevent any law-abiding citizen who is not dangerously mentally ill from owning a firearm."

But the bill hasn't moved an inch. And one reason is money.

The Sunlight Foundation reports that gun-control groups as of June 30 had reported spending five times as much on federal lobbying in 2013 -- about $1.6 million -- as in 2012. But gun-rights groups still outspent them by more than 7 to 1, ponying up $12.2 million.

Even Newtown has become a point of contention.

A few gun-rights groups are marking Bill of Rights Day on Sunday by sponsoring "Guns Save Lives Day" and encouraging attendance at gun shows "because crazy people, criminals and gun control extremists prefer unarmed victims," a pro-gun website says.

"No one at Newtown should have been a victim," said Alan Gottlieb, an officer with the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. He argues that all Americans, even in schools, must be allowed to defend themselves.

In fact, 2013 was a banner year for the gun industry: Sales of firearms and ammunition are way up.

Meanwhile, the online magazine Slate recently counted 11,427 people slain by a gun in America since Newtown -- including 194 children. And the magazine noted that suicides drive that number to almost three times as much. By comparison, 4,489 U.S. troops died in the Iraq War.

"Newtown was the most shocking, despicable, horrible, unimaginable tragedy," Steinberg said. "Yet it wasn't the only one -- and it continues to be not the only one."

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Steinberg's bill to ban all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, saying he doubted it "would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners' rights."

Steinberg plans to try again. "There's more work to do," he said.

But Paredes and other gun-rights groups say they'll keep trying to roll back existing gun controls.

Even California's new laws aimed at keeping household guns locked up, "as well-meaning as they are," violate people's rights to keep their guns available for self-defense, Paredes said. "It doesn't matter" if children or people prohibited from having guns are around, he said.

Sunnyvale's new gun control law, overwhelmingly passed by voters in November, was challenged in a lawsuit filed this week by a local gun dealer and a national gun industry trade group based in Newtown. The National Rifle Association plans to sue on Monday.

Paredes' group, meanwhile, is part of an effort to recall California lawmakers who voted for gun-control bills this year, just as two Colorado lawmakers got the boot in September.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Paredes said. "And we're doing it."

Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.

New STATE Gun-control laws
Twenty-one states passed some sort of gun control in the year since the Newtown massacre. Here are some of the most significant examples:
Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Colorado and Illinois expanded their background checks to include private sales.
Illinois, New York, Maryland and Delaware required gun owners to quickly report the loss or theft of firearms.
Connecticut, Maryland and New York regulated ammunition sales through record keeping or background checks.
California, Connecticut, New York and Maryland beefed up their assault-weapon laws.
California, New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Maryland strengthened or added laws limiting the size of ammunition magazines.

Gun sales booming
Precise figures on U.S. gun sales do not exist, but federal tax revenues and background checks provide a glimpse of the market:
Tax revenues from firearm and ammunition sales rose 48 percent over the previous year in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, to about $763 million.
The federal background-check system as of Nov. 30 did almost 19.1 million checks in 2013 -- already 97 percent of 2012's total. Eight of the 10 days with the most background checks since 1998 occurred on or since the day of the Newtown massacre.
California's system that tracks dealer sales recorded 780,526 transactions this year as of Nov. 1 -- 95 percent of last year's total, with two months still to go in 2013. The state Justice Department expects that number will exceed 1 million by year's end.