Volume 94, Issue 89
Friday, March 9, 2001
Gun violence in schools in must stop
It's been a violent week for schools. A fifteen-year-old boy allegedly killed two students and wounded 13 with gunfire in a California high school. In Pennsylvania a day later, an eighth-grader was wounded by a gun-toting schoolmate.
And before we Canadians could cluck smug tongues at our blood-thirsty Yankee neighbours, a former University of Alberta student was arrested on the school's campus with a loaded shotgun on Wednesday. According to police reports, the gunman intended to "take care of some business."
It would be nice to think that these events were unprecedented or anomalous. Unfortunately, place names like "Columbine" and "Taber, Alberta" are embedded in the popular consciousness, reminding us that lethal gun use in schools is anything but unheard of in North America.
The problem of gun violence in schools is a complicated one, a problem that will consistently frustrate those who approach it with indirect "solutions." Those, for example, who think kids will stop shooting each other in schools if parents will only take away their Sony Playstations and action movies, will never enjoy much success in countering school violence.
Similarly, those who propose a sobering dose of school prayer and Bible reading to kick off homeroom each morning as the sine qua non for ending high school violence are just not thinking very hard.
A teenager's decision to take a gun to school for killing is probably informed by a complex network of cultural influences (like movies, video games, and prevailing assumptions about the uses of violence), personal problems and dissatisfying relationships with others. Attempting to disentangle the various strands of such a web to isolate some general truth about why kids kill other kids is an exercise in futility.
So I have a different idea, one that was suggested to me by a man who owned an extensive personal gun collection and who trained me in the safe handling of guns last summer when I worked as a Canada Customs Officer.
My trainer, a self-professed gun enthusiast, said a good way to reduce the risk of domestic gun violence is to ensure that all household guns are properly stored, unloaded and locked up. The reasoning behind the practice, he explained, is that putting a gun in a locked container, unloaded and separate from ammunition means it will take the gun owner longer to get his or her hands on the gun if heaven forbid he or she happens to be in a murderous rage. While the enraged gun owner fumbles with getting the key into the lock and finding the bullets for the gun, he or she will hopefully have time to gain composure and rethink the whole killing thing, he told me.
Aggression toward others is a common feeling, but aggression in the absence of guns rarely results in death. We can't always explain why people snap and decide to kill others, but we can make sure we don't facilitate those intentions with easily available guns.
Tighter gun laws are only a partial solution to high school violence, but they are the most effective one.
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