Many Americans probably had little doubt a year ago that an era when the National Rifle Association could thwart any and all gun law reforms was about to land in the dust bin of history.

A year ago this morning, 26 people lay dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., gunned down by a lone 20-year-old gunman acting out a now-too-familiar drama, ending in mass murder and his own suicide.

Yet, despite the horrific slaughter of 20 young children and six adults last December - and an intense outpouring of emotion and vows of resolve to fight for change - nothing ultimately changed on the federal level.

National reform legislation is, and always has been, where the focus should be placed, as conflicting state laws have allowed criminals, young people and the mentally unstable easy access to firearms primarily suited only for killing other human beings. The purchase of assault-style weapons and handguns with multiround magazines can still be accomplished with minimal oversight and inadequate background checks in too many states, and citizens in states with stricter gun laws, like Massachusetts, often suffer as a result.

President Obama and many others made eloquent appeals for reform after the Sandy Hook slayings, but over time - as has most often been the case for several decades - the support in Congress for reasonable changes was woefully lacking.

And even in the state legislatures - where a flurry of gun-related bills were proposed and 109 were passed into law after the Newtown shootings - a recent survey in the New York Times showed that 70 actually loosened restrictions to gun ownership or gun use, while only 39 added new protections for the public.

These statistics are, on the surface, extremely disheartening. Even the slaughter of so many children - even coming around the time of a mass murder in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and not long after the wounding of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of six of her supporters, the anti-reform lobby seemed as strong as ever.

But that might not be the case - not entirely. A closer examination of those state bills that relaxed gun laws shows that most were in states controlled by conservative Republicans - like Texas, Arizona or Alabama - and that most of the changes did not cover aspects of gun laws that have prompted the most criticism from gun control advocates.

One Arkansas bill, for example, recognizes the validity of gun-carry permits from other states. Other bills also seem to be politically motivated, redundant measures that most lawmakers in most states might support; they merely underlined rights few would actively oppose.

However, those new laws that tightened gun ownership or gun use regulation focused more on background checks, mental health issues and gun access; assault-style rifles and multi-round magazines, like those used in a number of mass killings.

New York and Connecticut passed laws that were comprehensive in nature, as well as controversial, and no doubt owe their existence to the strong reaction to the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary. It seems obvious that, in that one sense at least, these young children and the adults who tried to protect them did not die in vain.

Of course, having islands of reasonableness in a nation armed to the teeth has never been good enough. Loose gun laws in some states are a travesty that allow the slaughter of citizens in those states and in other states as well. A lack of uniform regulation addressing the obvious and reasonable concerns over gun ownership and use also makes individual murder and mayhem easier to carry out, and it adds to our horrendous annual firearm death total.

The total for all gun-related deaths is estimated at more than 30,000 annually - a truly astonishing figure to anyone at all serious about bringing a long-running tragedy under some semblance of control. Why is it so hard to agree that this should be an urgent priority in any civilized society?

And regardless of how anyone interprets the Second Amendment of the Constitution, technical changes in weaponry available to the average citizen since the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791 has drastically altered the landscape.

Mass murder, in fact, was never an issue in the late 18th century - even, in most cases, during the warfare of the time. And it is impossible to imagine most of the disturbed individuals who easily gun down people as if they are playing a video game killing anyone up close with primitive firearms.

We live in a different universe today, but our gun laws have yet to progress beyond our Wild West era. Like slavery in the 19th century, our savagery with guns is a national tragedy we must somehow overcome.

The images from one year ago in Newtown, Conn., will never be forgotten. They epitomized the kind of horror Americans somewhere witness almost on a daily basis. In their name, and those of other victims, change will come. This is not over.