Twenty Christmas trees and what's next for US gun laws

A teenager decorates Christmas trees set up at a makeshift shrine to the victims of a elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, 16 December 2012 Image copyright AFP

Any memorial to 20 murdered children is going to be unbearably sad.

But I was not prepared for the makeshift shrine outside the Sandy Hook school. There are candles and flowers, bouquets of flowers, Christmas daisies and poinsettias, scores of teddy bears with sodden fur, and Christmas trees hung with decorations.

One tree for every murdered child.

A young man with guns and murder in his heart has subverted the meaning of the symbols of Christmas.

All the familiar ornaments of the season of joy, that reminds so many of us of happy times with our family, have been pressed into service as memorials of loss.

It is horrific reminder that for many families here, this Christmas will be unbearable, and every Christmas as long as they live will be have a hollowness at its centre.

In this sweet and likeable ordinary town, it is simply heartbreaking.

But the heart break has prompted soul-searching, as many ask how this country is so often over taken by home-grown horror.

If the children of the town had been massacred by a foreigner with a political agenda, one can only imagine the swiftness of action and retribution.

While certainty and speed are absent from this debate, there is some sort of momentum.

President Obama has held a meeting in the White House about what response there might be with his chief law official.

Two Democratic senators, previously fierce supporters of the gun lobby, appear to be changing their minds.

Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who once featured in a political advert shooting a rifle, said "proud gun owners are proud parents too" and said Congress needed to "move beyond rhetoric".

Virginia's Mark Warner said his three daughters asked him what he was going to do to change the law, adding the status quo was not acceptable.

This isn't perhaps very much. Even if Congress could be persuaded to change, the Supreme Court has said otherwise in the past four years.

They have made it clear the second amendment isn't, in their minds, about forming militias but clearly gives modern Americans the right to bear arms for their personal use.

They have struck down a ban on handguns in Washington DC, and then extended their reasoning to a ban in Chicago.

But something has now changed.

Obama did not touch gun control in his first term. Few ambitious politicians did. They thought it too toxic to handle, the public disinterested or hostile to restrictions.

The 20 trees, the plethora of soft toys and all the other reminders of a broken Christmas seem to tell some that that is no longer the case and that it may be more dangerous leaving the subject alone.