The Connecticut Legislature faces a major challenge in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 little children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown by a heavily armed gunman.

The legislature also bears a grave responsibility to take appropriate action following perhaps the most heinous of a long string of mass shootings in this country over the past couple of decades.

And the legislature must take advantage of the great opportunity. It has to make our state safer and send out a loud and clear message to Washington, D.C., and the rest of the nation that strong, effective legislation is needed all across the country to reduce gun violence.

We urge our elected legislators to be bold and aggressive in enacting comprehensive, common-sense legislation dealing with reasonable gun regulation, improved mental health treatment and enhanced school security.

We urge them to act courageously in the face of strong opposition from the gun lobby and to move ahead in a truly bipartisan fashion.

The legislature has addressed the Sandy Hook tragedy swiftly and appropriately thus far, establishing a Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety and holding four lengthy hearings in late January in Hartford and Newtown on school security, gun violence and mental health services.

To be sure, the legislators have received strongly divergent -- and often emotional -- opinions regarding gun-control legislation. There is clearly no unanimity when it comes to putting armed guards in schools and changing privacy laws to allow law enforcement officials to be aware of individuals who have been diagnosed as being mentally ill.

Yet the legislators must cut through all of this, recognize the historic moment in which they are living, and take decisive action that will help make the Sandy Hook shootings the turning point for reduced gun violence across America.

We strongly urge the legislature, following its research and in conjunction with the recommendations that will be delivered next month by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, to give greater credence to the voices of reason and common sense in the gun-control debate over the hollow arguments of the gun lobby, which decries any action at all as being an infringement on their Second Amendment rights.

We call on the legislature to strengthen gun-control laws in Connecticut, including well-enforced, universal background checks and a ban on assault-type weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips, armor-piercing bullets and any other weaponry designed to kill many people in rapid-fire order.

The legislature must take strong, visionary action on mental health treatment, too, in recognition of the reality that all the gunmen in mass shootings -- and many private shootings -- are mentally unstable.

We urge legislators to devote the resources necessary to help ensure earlier identification of mental illness; greater access to mental health services; improved treatment; and the destigmatization of mental illness.

We also call on the legislature to provide leadership -- and funding, in all likelihood -- in helping to make the state's schools safer from attack while not turning them into armed fortresses.

Clearly, most schools can be made safer with redesigns of entranceways, bulletproof or wire-mesh windows and upgraded lock systems. All school districts should also review their emergency plans and conduct more frequent training drills.

We understand the action of the Connecticut Legislature alone will not stop gun violence. State action clearly must be coupled with federal legislation.

Still, strong, decisive leadership from our state could influence events and decisions in Washington, D.C. and beyond.

And in the wake of the terrible loss of life in Sandy Hook, it is simply the right thing to do.