WASHINGTON – We live in a society that makes it very, very easy to kill kids, though we want to pretend that isn’t true.
Because the kids gunned down in Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday were swaddled in federally regulated, fire-retardant blankets, rode in elaborate car seats plastered with safety stickers, learned to ride bikes with elbow pads, knee guards and safety helmets and were never left alone with a plastic bag.
Some of them may never, ever have had a Twinkie.
Cribs, bouncy seats, cough medicine, scooters, sugary snacks — we have no problem regulating the ever-living life out of those.
But how do we keep them safe in their sweet, little elementary school when we live in a culture that has convinced itself to accept guns?
Parents across the nation were undone by this tragedy. The president had to stop and wait, wait until his urge to sob had passed when he spoke of the “beautiful little kids” killed in Newtown, Connecticut Friday morning.
All day long, my Facebook feed had parents changing their profile pictures to their little ones. One friend left work early to surprise her kids. Another said she just has “to pause and bow down in prayer …” for those kids.
What has happened to our culture that we even have this category — school shootings — by which to measure a horror that should otherwise be inconceivable, immeasurable and unfathomable?
Stop and think for a moment what this was. This is worse than Hunger Games-level bloodspill. This is the ham-handed massacre that happens in a post-apocalyptic novel, and book clubs discuss whether the author took it too far.
Or it’s something that happened in the past, in black-and-white, to urchins in pea coats and knee socks and we can’t even wrap our heads around what it was like back then.
But no, this is in full color, 2012. These are kids who just wrote Christmas letters to Santa asking for Mario Wii or American Girl dolls, they are kids who maybe got a remote control car for Hanukkah and grandma wondered if it wasn’t too much.
We worry about the hormones in their milk, the violence in Spongebob Squarepants and yet, this same country tolerates the existence of a military-style assault weapon built for no purpose other than killing lots of people on a battlefield — fast.
People will continue to say it’s written into our constitution, and an American right, guns. It’s a sticker on a truck, a political statement swathed in red white and blue, a stand on tradition, individualism and a huge lobby soaked in cash and merciless about winning, winning, winning.
“This latest terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School is no fluke,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund. “It is a result of the senseless, immoral neglect of all of us as a nation to fail to protect children instead of guns and to speak out against the pervasive culture of violence. It is up to us to stop these preventable tragedies.”
President Barack Obama also spoke to this disease in our nation, where mass shootings are now routine.
“As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children,” he said. “And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
But America already knows how this is going to go. We’re getting scary good at this. There will be school counselors and vigils and maybe some protests.
We will all hug our kids extra hard. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to let my kindergartner and third-grader go to their sleepover this weekend, I won’t be able to let them go.
There will be great work done by reporters in the next few weeks uncovering how the shooter was able to get his hands on the weapons. We’ll probably learn that he was mentally ill, that there were holes in the safety net and everyone around him saw the signs, but our treatment of mental health issues is lacking, our care incomplete and our system broken.
Schools will re-examine safety procedures. It’s going to be even harder for the babysitter to come pick up a child or for mom to drop off a forgotten lunch because of new ID checks put in place and security guards hired by the school district. And somehow, parents are going to agree to this madness because, what else can you do?
The drills for surviving during a school shooting will now begin in kindergarten. Preschool board meetings will discuss whether this should be looked into. Board members will nod sagely. What else can you do?
Sandy Hook will become a database entry, next to Columbine and Stockton and Virginia Tech.
What isn’t going to happen? Nothing will change when it comes to guns in America.
That is something rotten and infected in our culture. And it breaks my heart, at least 26 different ways today.
Petula Dvorak is a Washington Post columnist.