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This is what an emotional President Obama said in a gym in Newtown, Conn., on a Sunday night in December, two days after 26 people — 20 of them children — were murdered in cold blood by Adam Lanza, all of the killing done by a semiautomatic rifle called the AR-15:

“We can’t tolerate this anymore. We are not doing enough and we will have to change.”

Then he looked out into the audience and into the faces of the families of the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School and said this to them, and to the country:

“I’ll use whatever power this office holds … in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

But what does the President say now to the families of the victims of Sandy Hook, and Aurora, Colo., and all the other victims of mass murders and glory killers in this country? What does he say now that it becomes clear that a ban on assault weapons won’t even be legitimately included in the gun legislation being shaped this week in the U.S. Senate?

Any fool knows that Lanza couldn’t possibly have killed as many children as quickly as he did on the morning of Dec. 14 without an assault weapon in his hands. So how does the President and any other big politician who allows the gun nuts from the National Rifle Association to win again answer the larger question about weapons that make killings like the elementary-school massacre ridiculously easy:

If not now for a ban for these weapons, when?

If Sandy Hook Elementary doesn’t make every member of Congress take a stand against assault weapons in this country, then what does? How many small coffins do we need the next time?

And after the next Adam Lanza shows up with a gun like an AR-15 in a school or a theater or a shopping mall, no one will believe a word the President says at the next memorial service about profoundly changing gun laws in this country. Because three months after Newtown, it turns out that the President has no real power to change anything when it comes to guns in the hands of the wrong people in America.

Of course background checks are important. But so is an assault weapons ban. And please don’t believe the self-serving and slobbering supporters of the NRA — that means all the politicians in the House and the Senate who have pimped themselves out to the NRA — who tell you that a ban like this won’t make a difference, will not save lives the next time.

That happens to be a shameful and gutless lie.

Again: Ask any gun owner if Lanza could have killed as many children as he did in as short a time as he did — before he was a sure shot putting a bullet from one of his handguns through his snake-filled brain — if he didn’t have an AR-15 in his hands. Then go ask the gun lovers to explain all over again how a ban on weapons like this wouldn’t have saved three young lives that morning, or five, or maybe even more than that.

We know how much money the NRA pours into lobbying for guns like this to be completely available in America. We know that it has turned so many politicians, too many politicians, into cowards in the face of the money and imagined power of the NRA. But what dollar value would the NRA put on the life of a single child who could have been saved that morning if Adam Lanza had only been firing away with a handgun?

All we get now on guns in Washington is pathetic deal-making. We see even tough, noble politicians fighting for the ban, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), giving up on the assault weapons ban because it is too controversial, and will perhaps kill the chance for other gun restrictions that do have bipartisan support.

Feinstein has fought for more gun control for such a long time and was nearly in tears Tuesday when talking about the failure of the ban to even make it to the Senate floor as anything more than an amendment in a much bigger gun bill.

“People say, ‘well, are you disappointed?’ ” Feinstein said. “Obviously, I’m disappointed.”

Wayne LaPierre of the NRA, the face and voice opposing gun control in America, yammers on constantly about how only good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns, as if the only way to make us all safer from killing machines like Lanza are more guns. But you have to know this was a day in Washington when the bad guys won, and won big.

There is a reason why nearly 140,000 print and online readers of the Daily News signed petitions in this newspaper’s campaign to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. It is because they believed — and properly so — that this moment, the moment of Newtown, of Sandy Hook Elementary, should not be lost, because if it is, maybe it is lost forever.

It was officially lost in Washington on Tuesday, lost to fear and lost to ignorance and lost to the NRA. One last time: If not a ban on assault weapons now, then when? Shame on them all.

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