More than four months after the mass shooting that took the lives of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, little has been done to help reduce the chances of such an atrocity happening again in the United States.

Several states, including Connecticut, have passed tough new gun-safety legislation, but the inexcusable failure of the Congress to take any action at all waters down the potential effect of those state laws.

The national debate since Dec. 14 has focused primarily on guns -- proposals to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips, mandate universal background checks and cut down on gun trafficking vs. claims that the Second Amendment right to bear arms would be infringed upon.

The country is divided on most of those issues, and even on the one that has overwhelming public support -- background checks -- the U.S. Senate disgracefully caved in to threats and false propaganda from the National Rifle Association.

There is one point, however, on which there is widespread agreement: The gunmen in the mass shootings that take place in the U.S. with alarming frequency are mentally ill.

There is further agreement: A sharp focus needs to be placed on the issue of mental health treatment in this country, and bold action needs to be taken.

Thus far, the mental health issue has taken a back seat to the debate over guns and also to the issue of enhanced school security. That needs to change.

We have supported strong, comprehensive gun-safety legislation, and we urge proponents to keep fighting for such legislation until reason and courage prevail in Washington, D.C.

We also support improved school security, with the emphasis on improved school design and common-sense safety measures, not on creating armed fortresses.

But we believe it is time for the mental health issue to move to the front burner with gun safety and school security.

Mental illness has been considered a cause in the nearly three dozen mass shootings in the U.S. since the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, and it is likely a factor in many of the 30,000 gun-related deaths that occur in this country every year.

Major strides must be taken to tackle this most serious problem.

The Connecticut Legislature made a start when it included mental health treatment as a component of the sweeping gun-safety legislation it passed last month.

And Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Sandy Hook Commission has reconvened to address the issue as it prepares recommendations to be delivered later this year.

The challenges ahead are enormous.

Mental illness must be destigmatized in society so individuals, families and friends are more willing to accept it and seek treatment for those who need it.

Early detection of mental illness is considered a key to helping prevent violent acts like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora and Sandy Hook.

At the same time, a fine line needs to be walked between individual privacy rights and public safety concerns.

And greater access to mental health treatment and improved treatment are essential.

All of that is easier said than done. It will require a change in the American culture. It will require sustained commitment. It will require money -- lots of it.

We urge the state of Connecticut to take the lead and to be aggressive in its efforts to find solutions to the mental health issue.

We are hoping Connecticut, in memory of those who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School, can serve as a beacon of light to show the way for the federal government and the rest of the nation.