The 23 miles between Fairfield and Newtown suddenly shrank to mere inches last Friday.

Any of the 20 children slaughtered by a gunman in the Sandy Hook Elementary School could have been the cute kid next door. Any of the six heroic educators who died with them could have lived across the street.

Newtown's loss and our empathy have melded southwestern Connecticut into a single community, united in grief, bound by humanity.

As a memorial to those who died, we now must use that unity to channel grief into a resolve -- that nobody should be able to legally obtain an assault weapon.

When he killed 26 people at the school, Adam Lanza was armed with a Bushmaster AR-15. It is a combat weapon that can rapidly fire as many as 30 high-velocity rounds before a shooter -- in the wink of an eye -- can swap an empty magazine for a full one and fire another 30 bullets.

Such weapons have a single purpose, and the funerals of 26 Newtown victims are attesting to it.

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DEMAND A BAN Here is how to contact members of Fairfield County's Congressional delegation. Sen. Richard Blumenthal: Email link -- . Phones -- 860-258-6940; 202-224-2823 Sen.-elect Chris Murphy: Email link -- . Phones -- 203- 798-2072; (202) 225-4476. Rep. Jim Himes: Email link -- . Phones -- 866- 453-0028; 202- 225-5541.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said this week she would introduce legislation next month for a new ban on assault rifles. If they haven't already, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen.-elect Chris Murphy should be on the phone with Feinstein signing on as co-sponsors.

And anyone who thinks Lanza had no business wielding an assault rifle should contact Blumenthal, Murphy and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and tell them so.

Outside of the military and law enforcement, assault weapons have no place in society.

When the founding fathers drafted the Second Amendment -- the right to keep and bear arms -- guns were single-shot devices that required a shooter to reload both a bullet and gun powder after each shot.

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson could not have imagined Lanza's Bushmaster AR-15, an AK-47, an Uzi or a "machine pistol" that can fire 32 rounds.

Sportsmen who hunt for recreation don't have to rapidly spray the woods with lead to bring down a deer. There is nothing sporting about that. Ranchers protecting their herds don't need 30-round bursts to control predators.

Make no mistake: a ban on assault weapons would not put a huge dent in overall U.S. gun violence. Most gun deaths are caused by handguns. A ban also would not address mental-health issues that often play a role in murders.

But taking assault weapons off the street could seriously curb mass shootings such as Newtown, the Colorado movie theater earlier this year and Virginia Tech -- massacres in which many innocent people died simply because they were in range of a troubled young man wielding a weapon that could rapidly fire multiple rounds.

From 1994 to 2004, the U.S. had a ban on sales of assault weapons that succeeded in curbing mass shootings. The 10-year ban was approved by President Bill Clinton; President George W. Bush let it expire.

With the exception of 1999 -- the year of the Columbine High School carnage -- mass shootings each year during the ban were lower than before the ban, according to a Princeton University study.

The assault-weapon ban worked despite serious flaws. It barred new sales of 18 specific weapons, but didn't confiscate existing ones. Because there is no standard definition of "assault weapon," the Washington Post said, gun manufacturers were able to produce guns strikingly similar to banned models. Another major shortcoming was the proliferation of large-capacity magazines; manufacturers ramped up production of 30-round clips as soon as Congress began discussing the ban in the early 1990s.

But proponents of a new ban are aware of those flaws, and a new law could tighten many previous loopholes.

With the next major disaster or crisis, Newton will slip into the rear-view mirror of the national media. But we who shared our neighbor's pain must maintain unity and passion and channel it toward an updated weapons ban.

Thirty years of data indicate most mass shootings involve guns that were obtained legally.

Mother Jones magazine last year examined records of 61 mass murders by firearm in the U.S. since 1982. It determined that the killers in all except a handful of cases had obtained their guns legally.

Adam Lanza's mother did, too.

Don't let the grief, the outrage ebb before contacting our federal representatives and insisting on an assault weapons ban. We've made it easy in this space by showing you how.