A shot rings out down the hall. Confusion, then terror spreads across the faces of teachers and students. Another community has become the victim of “random” violence, of the prevalence of guns; America is again shocked by the rage of a child.
Too often school shootings splash across the pages of national newspapers like so much blood on a cafeteria floor. Too many children have died. Tragically, too many more will succumb to gun violence in the nation’s schools. A society numbed by daily depictions of violence in television shows, movies, even books and newspapers is beginning to realize that it can no longer do nothing while innocent children are dying at the hands of their distraught peers.
Only when public opinion stands firmly against the factors that lead to gun violence in schools will common-sense measures – like passing new gun control laws and strengthening old ones, enforcing those laws, stamping out cruel teasing in schools that often serves as the trigger of violent outbursts and offering children a healthy release for their emotions and energy – become effective.
To some people gun control is a dirty phrase that conjures up images of “jack-booted thugs” invading homes searching for contraband guns. This view is beyond extreme, but the same people who decry new gun control laws, especially the National Rifle Association, counter calls for new legislation with pleas to enforce existing rules.
The current emergency calls for both steps. The existing laws regulating guns are powerful, but there are loopholes. Trigger locks that work should be required on all handguns, and national standards for those locks must be created. Parents should be held accountable for allowing their firearms to fall into the hands of their children.
Everyone wants to keep children safe. With this desire in mind, Congress and the states should ignore the complaints of pro-gun zealots and pass outright bans on certain types of weapons. The third word in the Second Amendment is “regulated.” Conservative jurists and NRA spokesmen tend to gloss over this very important fact. That word is included so that states and the national government can reasonably restrict gun ownership. High capacity, high caliber handguns have only one purpose: to kill as many people as possible. Such products should not be readily available in homes where children play and adults may argue.
Studies show that most gun violence is not premeditated. Rather, deaths from guns are more often the products of passion than the fruits of planning. The common thread in school shootings is the ready availability of guns. Without that essential ingredient, Columbine, Colo., Paducah, Ky., Conyers, Ga., Santee, Calif., and countless other towns could have been spared the tragedies that shattered the notion of schools as safe havens from the harsh realities of the adult world.
In many ways, though, the adult world is kinder than the mini-societies that have evolved in American high schools. High school cliques are as impenetrable as the social classes that order adult interactions. With this segregation and classification often comes teasing. The mob mentality at play when peers pick on a student allows those taunting to engage in conduct and say things they would otherwise never do or say simply to be “cool.” Of course, this mental torture, as extreme cases of teasing often are characterized, can lead to serious consequences.
School officials must work to end the harmful taunting in high schools and middle schools. In reality, though, the lessons of kindness and compassion must be learned much earlier from those who can influence young children.
During the 1945 Nuremberg Trials, a psychiatrist attempting to discover the why and how behind the Nazis’ crimes characterized evil as a lack of empathy. America’s parents could be raising a generation disconnected from the part of themselves that feels for other people, that reaches out to help. America could be raising the next Goebbels, Goering, Himmler or Hitler.
Once these time-bomb students are identified, though, more must be done to help direct their energies in less destructive ways. Cutting funding for arts and music only lessens the opportunities students have for self-expression. Athletics, too, can help channel aggression in a healthy manner. Counseling services must be about more than choosing a college. And administrators and teachers must be given resources to help students find ways to cope.
Children who have yet to live their lives, who still dream of “one day.” and harbor hope for the future should never have that potential taken away because of gun violence at school, because of a situation that appears preventable.
The task before all Americans is to attempt to rectify the situation, to lobby for real gun control measures, to advocate enforcement of existing laws, to teach empathy and stop the teasing, to give children a chance to express themselves without the need for violence. No more funerals. No more tiny coffins. No more guns in the hands of children.
-The writer is Hatchet opinions editor.