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How can we protect our kids in a culture that accepts guns?

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We live in a society that makes it very, very easy to kill kids, although we want to pretend that isn’t true.

The 20 young children gunned down inside Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday were swaddled in federally regulated, fire-retardant blankets, rode in elaborate car seats plastered with safety stickers, and learned to ride bikes with elbow pads, knee guards and safety helmets. Some of them may never have had a Twinkie pass their lips.

Cribs, bouncy seats, cough medicine, scooters, sugary snacks — we have no problem regulating the life out of those. But how do we keep our children safe in their kindergarten classrooms when we live in a culture that has persuaded 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, Conn., on 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 the children who died and those who witnessed it.

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?

The dead are children who just wrote Christmas letters to Santa asking for Mario Wii games or American Girl dolls. They are kids who unwrapped a Princess Barbie or a remote control car for Hanukkah while Grandma wondered if it wasn’t too much.

We worry about the hormones in their milk, the violence in “Spongebob Squarepants,” and yet this 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 that the right to bear arms is written into our Constitution. It’s a sticker on a truck, a political statement swathed in red, white and blue, a stand on tradition, individualism and a huge gun 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 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 whether I’m going to be able to let my kindergartner and third-grader go to their sleepover this weekend. I am too shaken to let them out of my sight.

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.

Schools will reexamine safety procedures. It might get even harder for the babysitter to come pick up a child or for Mom to drop off a forgotten lunch. And parents will agree to whatever draconian new measures are imposed, because what else can we do?

The drills for surviving a school shooting will now begin in kindergarten. Or maybe preschool.

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 27 different ways.

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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