In 1940, public school teachers ranked the top seven disciplinary problems at public schools. They were talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in the hall, cutting in line, dress code violations, and littering. By 1990, the top seven disciplinary problems had changed somewhat. They were now drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, and assault (Harris 20).
Just pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news. You may question whether America’s schools are still safe places for children. The recent spree of school shootings is dominating headlines nationwide and sending policy makers, parents, teachers and other concerned citizens into a tailspin. Since October, incidents of school shootings by students, some as young as 10, have occurred at sickeningly regular intervals across the country. From Pearl, Miss., to Jonesboro, Ark., to Fayetteville, Tenn., children have lost their lives to angry, upset gun-toting classmates. For example in Springfield, Ore., a 15-year old walked into his high school cafeteria and opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, the shootings left two students dead and dozens more hospitalized. After determining the identity of the shooter, police found the student’s parents slain in their home, apparently by their son.
Most of the victims were targeted randomly. The suspects were adolescent, alienated and armed. But experts warn that parallels between the shootings are more complicated (Bowles). The suspected shooters may be linked not so much by circumstances as a common mentality. “It would be one thing if these kids had happened to be carrying weapons to school and opened fire during a fight,” says criminologist Gary Goldman, author of the book Books and Bullets: Violence in the Public Schools. “But these attacks were planned. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing. These boys had a chance to think things over. And calmly, coolly, they decided to take care of matters with pistols and rifles.”
In each case, the suspected shooters apparently had trouble adjusting socially. (Ibid) In the Pearl and Jonesboro slayings, police say, two of the three suspects were distraught after being jilted by girls. They and the suspected Paducah shooter also were associated with fringe groups at school. Luke Woodham, 16, the Pearl High School senior accused of stabbing his mother to death and fatally shooting two students in October, had formed a morose circle called “The Group,” which based itself on violent and anti-Christian writings of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Michael Corneal, 14, who was charged in December with firing on fellow students in a prayer circle at Heath High School in Paducah, hung out with a small band of students who were fascinated with the occult, school officials and police say. (Ibid) And one of the two suspects in the Jonesboro slayings, Mitchell Johnson, 13, had boasted of joining a gang.
More ominously, the suspects in all three cases warned of violence to come (Zimring 48). Woodham, police and students say, wrote and passed around a “manifesto” before the spree. In it, he wrote “murder is not weak and slow-witted. Murder is gutsy and daring.” Corneal, classmates later told authorities, warned several students three days before the rampage that “something big is going to happen.” Students at Jonesboro’s Westside Middle School recall Johnson telling several of them the day before the slayings that he “had a lot of killing to do,” and that they would learn the next day “whether you live or die,” according to Associated Press reports.
In each case, classmates said they did not report the incidents because they did not take them seriously. “Every kid spouts off now and then,” Houston child psychologist Pamela Harrison says. “That’s always been the case. What’s different now is the accessibility children have to weapons, to drugs, to the kinds of things that can do real harm to themselves or someone else. “Schools have to start emphasizing to students that when they hear a classmate say he wants to kill himself, or kill someone else, they must take it very seriously,” she says. “And adults have to act immediately. Because there is recipe for a troubled kid (Harris 14).”
If the suspects are similar in some ways, they are different in others. Woodham was distressed over his parents’ divorce. Corneal came from a two-parent home and is the son of a prominent defense lawyer. A second boy charged in the Jonesboro incident, Andrew Golden, 11, is the son of postmasters. Little is known of Johnson’s family. Woodham’s high school has more than 1,100 students while Corneal’s has 600. Johnson and Golden attended a middle school with 250 pupils. “You could spend the next five years trying to figure out if big schools or single parents or a violent movie drove these kids to this,” Goldman says. “But the only real common thread is that they saw the way to get rid of their problem was to get rid of other people. I’m not sure there is a simple way to explain a tragedy like that.”
Despite nationwide gun-free school laws, which prohibit possession of a firearm on or near the property of a public or private school, students are bringing guns to school and using them against their fellow students and teachers with increasing frequency (Harrington-Leuker). What possesses these students to gun down their classmates? How are these students getting access to firearms? Who is ultimately responsible for these tragedies? What stressors are contributing to these shootings? And how are parents and educators missing the warning signs that these children may have reached the breaking point?
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of gun violence is the tremendous numbers of children and youth killed or injured each year by firearms and these numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. In 1985, the number of firearm homicides for youth 19 years and younger was 1,339(National Center for Health Statistics). In 1995, it was 2,754. In 1995, guns accounted for 84% of homicides of persons 13 to 19 years of age.(FBI, Uniform Crime Reports 1995, 1996, p. 18. ). Youth suicide also has increased. In 1985, there were 1,256 firearm suicides for youths one to 19 years of age (Fingerhut). In 1993, the first year for which this specific figure is available, this number increased to 1,460. Unintentional firearm deaths among youth 19 years of age and under totaled 551 in 1991.In the same year, a total of 5,737 youth 19 years of age and younger died by firearm homicide, suicide, unintentional shootings, and unknown circumstances (CDC). On average, more than 14 youth each day are killed by gunshots.
More and more young people are in possession of firearms. In 1995, 43,211 juveniles were arrested for weapons violations.(FBI, Uniform Crime Reports 1995, 1996, p. 218.) In 1976, 59% of murders committed by juveniles involved a gun. In 1991, that number had increased to 78%.(Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: A National Report, Washington, DC, p. 58.)
Recent public attention has focused on the problem of gun violence in our nation s schools. A 1994 Gallup poll of Americans shows that for the first time, fighting, violence, and gangs has moved to the top of the list to tie with lack of discipline as the biggest problem facing schools (Gallup Poll).
Many students fear violent attacks traveling to and from school as well as within school itself. This fear leads many young people to conclude mistakenly that a gun is their best means of defense. It is difficult to determine what effect the threat of violence has upon the learning of each student, but clearly education takes a back seat to one s own sense of security and well- being.
How violent have our schools become, and how do today s students cope with this violence?
A 1990 survey conducted by the Centers For Disease Control found that one in 20 high school students carried a gun in the past month (Zawitz 3).
A 1994 poll conducted by Lou Harris found that only one in five students would tell a teacher if he or she knew of another student carrying weapons to school (Ibid).
Theories differ about where young people get their guns. School security experts and law enforcement officials estimate that 80% of the firearms students bring to school come from home, while students estimate that 40% of their peers who bring guns to school buy them on the street (Kellermann 1557). The Chicago-based Joyce Foundation commissioned Louis Harris Research, Inc. to conduct a poll, which found that only 43% of parents with children under 18 years of age who own a gun keep that gun,
safely locked. An estimated 1.2 million elementary-aged, latchkey children have access to guns in their homes (Sugarmann 34). Therefore, one way to reduce youth violence may be to restrict the flow of handguns to adults.
In conclusion there is one size fits all solution. Many would blame organization like the National Rifle Association and those who support gun rights laws for the situation we have in our society with kids and guns. However the NRA could offer many solutions and be a great help with the problem.
It is unfortunate that the President would call a national summit on youth violence and exclude from that roundtable discussion the nation’s foremost authority on firearm safety education, accident prevention, and proven policies that curb criminal misuse of guns.
So here’s what the NRA believes to be effective — not in theory but in practice — and calls upon the President’s summit and Congress to consider in their search for meaningful solutions.
Insist that schools be as safe as airports, with absolutely gun-free schools and zero tolerance for violators of the Gun-Free School Zones Act. Of 6,000 students caught at school with guns in the past 2 years, only 13 were federally prosecuted.
Adopt and fund Project Exile nationally, a zero-tolerance policy tested and proven to immediately cut crime and save lives because every violent felon caught with a gun goes to jail for 5 years, period. Provide $50 million for the necessary investigators and prosecutors to implement Project Exile nationwide, plus $25 million to build awareness of it.
Fund the Eddie Eagle safety program, the most effective gun accident prevention program in existence, for every elementary classroom in America. It has already reached 11 million children, and gun accident rates are the lowest in history.
Restore full and permanent funding for the National Instant Check System. And when a felon tries to buy a gun, prosecute him. None have been prosecuted in the past 3 years.
Close the Hinckley loophole by making records of people adjudicated mentally incompetent available to the National Instant Check System. Insanities like John Hinckley’s would not prevent a gun purchase today, because most mental records are invisible to the system.
Stop ignoring lawbreakers who illegally provide guns to juveniles. Only 11 were federally prosecuted in the past 2 years. Arrest them and lock them up.Stop releasing juvenile criminals caught with guns. Only 11 were federally prosecuted in the past 2 years.
Bar all juveniles convicted of violent felonies from owning guns for life.Hold adults responsible for willfully and recklessly allowing access to firearms.
Keep criminal records of violent juveniles open indefinitely, not expunged at 18 in the middle of a crime spree.
Stop ignoring easy access to firearms by convicted felons through straw purchasers. Only 37 were federally prosecuted in the past 2 years.Admit that Right To Carry works. Properly permitted citizens who pass the background checks and training courses not only deserve that right but are a proven deterrent to crime. Abuse is nonexistent. And though very few actually choose to carry a gun, criminals don’t know which few they are.
We believe in absolute adherence to the law at gun shows and will consider instant checks there when, and only when, this Administration stops demanding new gun taxes and stops illegally compiling and retaining the records of millions of lawful gun buyers.
The NRA supports and encourages the distribution and use of safety locks, trigger locks, gun safes or any voluntary means necessary and appropriate to keep firearms away from, or inoperable by, those who shouldn’t have them.They oppose waiting periods because they constitute prior restraint upon the lawful. They oppose specified magazine capacities because how many bullets, magazines, guns, bombs or anything else the law says he may carry, dont influence criminal behavior. We oppose one-gun-a-month schemes because once there’s authority to say one; there will eventually be authority to say none. Most importantly, none of these proposals have any proven relationship to the criminal misuse of firearms.
The NRA has invested tens of millions of dollars teaching childhood accident prevention, promoting firearm safety, educating hunters, training police instructors and funding startup of Project Exile around the country. This is far more than the federal government, the media community, citizens’ groups and all summit attendees combined. More firearm legislation, like previous legislation, that is passed with no intention of enforcement is a dangerous fraud perpetrated upon the safety of the American people that must stop.
1.Bowles,Scott. USATODAY http://www.usatoday.com/news/special/shoot/shoot010.htm
2.Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Deaths resulting from firearm- and motor-vehicle-related injuries: United States, 1968-1991,” Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, vol. 4, 1994, pp. 37-42;
3.FBI, Uniform Crime Reports 1995, 1996, pp. 13, 18, and 22.
4.Fingerhut, L.A. “Firearm Mortality Among Children, Youth, and Young Adults 1-34 Years of Age, Trends and Current Status: United States, 1985-90,” Table I
5.Harris, Louis “A Survey of the American People on Guns as a Children’s Health Issue,” A Study Conducted by L.H. Research, Inc. for The Harvard School of Public Health, June 1993, p. 14.
6.Louis Harris Research, Inc. “A Survey of the American People on Guns as a Children’s Health Issue,” p. 20.
7.Harrington-Leuker, Donna “Blown Away,” The American School Board Journal, May 1992. p. 22.
8.Kellermann, Arthur and Reay. Donald. “Protection or Peril? An Analysis of Firearm-Related Deaths in the Home.” The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 314, no. 24, June 1986, pp. 1557-60.
9.Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: A National Report, Washington, DC, p. 58.
10.Sugarmann, Josh and Kristen Rand, “Ceasefire: A Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Firearms Violence,” Rolling Stone, issue 677, March 10, 1994, 34.
11.USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, 1992.
12.Wall Street Journal/Hart-Teeter poll, December 13, 1996, p. R4.