The 1980s were much worse than today in terms of overall violent crime, including gun homicide, but they were much better than today in terms of mass random shootings. The difference wasn't that the 1980s had tougher controls on so-called "assault weapons." No assault weapons law existed in the U.S. until California passed a ban in 1989.
Connecticut followed in 1993. None of the guns that the Newtown murderer used was an assault weapon under Connecticut law. This illustrates the uselessness of bans on so-called assault weapons, since those bans concentrate on guns' cosmetics, such as whether the gun has a bayonet lug, rather than their function.
What some people call "assault weapons" function like every other normal firearm—they fire only one bullet each time the trigger is pressed. Unlike automatics (machine guns), they do not fire continuously as long as the trigger is held. They are "semi-automatic" because they eject the empty shell case and load the next round into the firing chamber.
Today in America, most handguns are semi-automatics, as are many long guns, including the best-selling rifle today, the AR-15, the model used in the Newtown shooting. Some of these guns look like machine guns, but they do not function like machine guns.
Back in the mid-1960s, in most states, an adult could walk into a store and buy an AR-15 rifle, no questions asked. Today, firearms are the most heavily regulated consumer product in the United States. If someone wants to purchase an AR-15 or any other firearm, the store must first get permission for the sale from the FBI or its state counterpart. Permission is denied if the buyer is in one of nine categories of "prohibited persons," including felons, domestic-violence misdemeanants, and persons who have been adjudicated mentally ill or alcoholic.
The REAL question is: How can the state intervene in the life of a citizen who may be weird, but who has not ever committed a crime, harmed himself or others, and who acts peculiarly from time2time?
Try to remember these watchwords of our judicial system:
1. "Presumption of innocence."
2. "Due process of law."
3. FREEDOM! "It is better that 99 dangerous people are roaming the streets with the propensities for great harm than ONE innocent person be incarcerated and lose his liberty."
Other nations have, and may still use, concepts like "preventative detention," "required observation," "sanity testing," and other euphemisms designed to project their power over their subjects and to control the populace with coercive means. We have chosen another path and must suffer the consequences of such optimism and embrace of fairness. All IMHO.