The news on Friday about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was so horrific, the first question was simply how to take it in.
Waiting for the children to get home from school, I posed the question on Facebook: What do you say to a kindergartener, a third-grader and a sixth-grader who may have heard that 20 elementary school children were gunned down, along with six adults, in a school setting just like their own?
A mix of answers came back -- some sensitive and empathetic, from other parents struggling with the same dilemma, some hard-nosed and political, from people ready to fight.
One wise bit of advice: Deal with it yourself, first. As adults, we have a responsibility to get hold of ourselves and project a sense of steadiness and security for our children. Don't freak them out with your own feelings of helplessness. Let them ask their questions and take things in as much or as little as they can handle, at their own pace.
My little girls' father and I had the same impulse: to protect them from the news, to shut out the horrible reality of our gun-crazy society and shelter their sense that they can be safe.
The reality, of course, is that they are not safe. And that is infuriating.
What kind of society sends kindergartners off to school knowing that they might be gunned down in class?
We deliberately limited our intake of information about the shooting over the weekend -- no TV, no radio, flipping the front page of the newspaper upside down.
The political arguments seemed particularly toxic. Who wants to hear from the gun lobby and its enablers right now? Except to answer this: What is your plan?
Not "what is your argument?" What is your plan?
How do you plan to ensure that elementary-school-aged children are not gunned down? What do you propose we do, as a society, to make sure that kids are safe, and shopping malls and movie theaters and elementary schools are not scenes of mass murder, again and again?
Perhaps it was to avoid answering that question that the NRA's apologists ducked the Sunday shows.
In the shocked silence surrounding the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the question hangs in the air: What can we, as adults, do to protect our children? Continue to allow the sale of rifles at gun shows with no background check? Keep permitting general access to assault weapons and ammunition so shooters can fire off 30 rounds at a time?
One year ago, Wisconsin became the 49th state in the union to allow concealed carry. Those paper-thin no-guns signs in the windows of daycare centers and toy stores are familiar to us now.
Carrying a loaded handgun in your car, without a license, became legal last year.
Starting on Jan. 1, anyone who can legally carry a gun may openly carry a pistol in a state park without a license.
Under the new "Castle Doctrine," Wisconsinites may legally shoot and kill anyone who comes on their property "forcibly" (which includes opening a door).
In other words, the trajectory is toward more tolerance for firearms everywhere in our public life, less regulation, and a greater acceptance of the idea that ordinary citizens may shoot to kill.
When the victims of a mass shooting like the one in Newtown, Conn., are little children, the argument that somehow arming more people so they can turn the next attack into a shootout sounds like a sick joke.
We've been hearing it, though. Along with a lot of other sick arguments from the proponents of easier access to lethal weaponry, we've been hearing that more teachers and moviegoers and bus drivers and cafeteria workers should carry guns. That the government will only take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens if it attempts to limit access to weapons like the AR-15 rifle used against the movie theater audience in Aurora and a similar one used against those 20 schoolchildren at Sandy Hook.
I don't want to hear all that.
I want to hear the plan.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.