It was the bullets -- a hail of bullets fired in rapid succession -- that killed 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.
It was the bullets -- dozens of bullets sprayed in all directions within a matter of seconds -- that killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. last July 20. And it was bullets -- also fired from a semi-automatic weapon -- that took the lives of two firefighters responding to a 911 call in Webster, N.Y. on Christmas Eve.
It was the bullets -- from high-capacity magazines -- that enabled the slaughter of so many unsuspecting, innocent victims in shootings across America the past year.
There were, of course, other factors that contributed to the carnage in the current epidemic of senseless shootings. There is the absence of a national database for gun sales. There is the lack of systematic background checks on all purchasers of firearms and ammunition.
There is the inadequate attention paid to mental health issues. And there is the effect of the violence in all too many of today's motion pictures and video games.
But the biggest factor is the bullets from high-capacity magazines -- which allow attackers to fire off dozens of rounds of ammunition, and kill dozens of people, without pausing to reload.
There are a number of steps that can, and should be taken to make America a place where senseless shootings are a rarity. All possibilities are presently under review by Vice President Joe Biden, whom President Obama has assigned the task of coming up with proposals. Biden is meeting this week with proponents of gun control, as well as opponents, including representatives of the National Rifle Association.
The first step should be the banning of bullets -- those held in high-capacity magazines and fired from assault weapons. This is the step that would have the most immediate effect, and it is the step that would be the least expensive.
The majority of Americans approve of such a ban. There is a groundswell of support for government action. Victims' groups are vocalizing their grief and their anger. And people of prominence are stepping forward to add their voices to the growing chorus.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is dipping into his personal fortune to promote the need for gun control. Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords -- herself a victim of a mass shooting -- and former astronaut husband Mark Kelly have launched an initiative to ban high-capacity magazines.
Last week, Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette took action -- introducing new legislation that would ban high-capacity magazines. Rep. DeGette's district includes the site of the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting, and is near the site of last year's Aurora movie theater murders.
With so much support, it would seem that this legislation should sail swiftly through both houses of Congress, and be signed into law by the president. But two powerful forces of human nature stand in the way -- greed and fear.
The billion-dollar shooting industry, in general, and the National Rifle Association, in particular, will spend heavily to block this bill, and they constitute what is, arguably, the most powerful lobby in Washington. For them, millions of dollars in profits are at stake. That's where the greed comes in.
In the battle for votes on Rep. DeGette's legislation, the NRA will strike fear into the heart of any member of Congress who contemplates a yes vote. The fear will be of a primary challenge -- funded by the NRA -- next time the lawmaker is up for reelection.
Here's hoping that before they vote, members of Congress will think on their own, or be reminded by others, of 20 beautiful and innocent children who were shot multiple times -- their young bodies riddled by bullets from a weapon designed for military combat. Or perhaps members of Congress will be affected by thoughts of one of the firefighters cut down in New York -- a police lieutenant who also served his neighbors as a volunteer fireman, and had just been honored as "Firefighter Of The Year."
Here's hoping that when members of Congress vote on legislation to ban high-capacity magazines, human decency will overcome fear, and will defeat greed.