In fewer than 10 horrible minutes last Friday morning, a gunman took the lives of 26 people, including 20 small children -- before taking his own life.

That he could do that much damage that quickly speaks volumes about a major American problem with guns. No one, other than police and the military, should have access to that kind of firepower. Not hunters. Not collectors. Not recreational target shooters. No one.

Calls for gun control are a predictable response after mass shootings. The pleas often draw backlash from the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates, who roll out their oft-repeated "Guns don't kill, people do'' response. And then, well, nothing. Nothing changes because the politically powerful gun lobby stops any legislation cold.

But please, not this time. This time, political leaders -- and especially those who have historically opposed gun control -- should come together and find common ground on at least one sensible step: A ban on assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips and certain kinds of bullets.

There is no good reason for anyone other than law enforcement personnel and the military to have access to weapons that can take so many lives so quickly.

Authorities say the gunman who went on last week's killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who had attended the school. Lanza reportedly shot his mother multiple times in the head at the home they shared before taking several guns from the family home and forcing his way into the school. The weapon used to kill most of the victims was a Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic rifle.

In a welcome effort to get "weapons of war off the streets," U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has vowed to introduce a bill in January to resurrect a federal assault-weapons ban that was allowed to expire in 2004. The bill would ban the possession or sale of assault weapons and "big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets.''

Civilians are not allowed to possess any other type of weapon or explosive device that can produce mass destruction. Why in the world should they have easy access to firearms that can mow down 26 innocent people in a matter of minutes?

In the wake of Sandy Hook, lawmakers have called for congressional review of gun laws, mental-health services and violent video games. All of those issues are worth more discussion and possibly legislation, but Feinstein's bill is the most sensible first step this nation can take to honor the victims of Sandy Hook and attempt to prevent the next mass shooting.

According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, the Connecticut massacre has shifted public opinion on at least one aspect of the gun issue. More than half of those surveyed said the killings were a sign of broader societal problems, not merely the isolated act of a troubled individual.

In previous polls after mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz., respondents said the killings were aberrations that did not reflect general problems in American culture.

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed over the weekend supported a nationwide ban on high-capacity ammunition clips -- the type used at Sandy Hook and in other recent mass slayings. Slightly more than half supported a ban on semiautomatic handguns.

America was shaken to its core by the murders of so many young, innocent children and the adults who tried to protect them. This may be the "tipping point" in the gun debate, as some have suggested, but we have heard that term before.

It's time to act, and a nationwide ban on deadly assault weapons would be a logical, honorable start.