A grim American routine

A U.S. flag flies at half staff outside the Newtown High School before President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend a memorial for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A U.S. flag flies at half staff outside the Newtown High School before President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend a memorial for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (AP)
Posted: December 17, 2012

By Petula Dvorak

We live in a society that makes it easy to kill kids.

Though we want to pretend that isn't true. Because the kids gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Friday were swaddled in federally regulated fire-retardant blankets, rode in elaborate car seats plastered with safety stickers, learned to ride bikes with safety helmets, and were never left alone with a plastic bag. Some may never have had a Twinkie.

Cribs, cough medicine, snacks - we have no problem regulating the ever-living life out of those. But how do we keep them safe in their elementary schools in a culture that has convinced itself to accept guns?

Parents across the nation were undone by this tragedy. The president had to wait until his urge to sob had passed when he spoke of the "beautiful little kids" killed in Newtown. 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.

How can we even have a category of horrors, school shootings, that should be immeasurable and unfathomable? Stop and think for a moment about what this was. These are kids who just wrote Christmas letters to Santa asking for Mario Wii or American Girl dolls.

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. 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 of the Children's Defense Fund. "It is a result of the senseless, immoral neglect of all of us as a nation ... to protect children instead of guns."

President Obama also spoke to this disease in a 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. 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.

Reporters will find out how the shooter was able to get his hands on the weapons. We may learn that he was mentally ill, that there were holes in the safety net, that everyone around him saw the signs, but that our treatment of mental health issues is lacking.

Schools will reexamine safety procedures. It's going to be even harder for a babysitter to pick up a child, or for a mom to drop off a forgotten lunch, because of new ID checks and security guards. The drills for surviving a school shooting will begin in kindergarten. Preschool board meetings will discuss whether this should be looked into.

Sandy Hook will become a database entry - next to Columbine and Stockton and Virginia Tech.

But 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.


Petula Dvorak writes for the Washington Post. She can be reached at dvorakp@washpost.com.

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