Regent Digital News - Mar/April, 2001
School Shootings in Perspective: Local Representatives in Denial
by Russ Baker
Regent Exclusive: Our study finds that in nearly every place where a
school shooting took place, the local
representative in Congress is a staunch opponent of gun restrictions.
If Santee is America, so is its representative in
Congress, Republican Duncan Hunter. Like so many of his colleagues, he is a
walking, talking contradiction: he expressed horror and revulsion about the
incident, yet has voted against every single bill designed to restrict
access to guns.
Many political leaders don’t want to acknowledge the
fact that these tragedies would be far rarer if guns were less plentiful and
less easy to obtain. Instead, trying hard to preserve their support among
gun owners, they talk about almost anything else. President Bush, for
example, who in the past has downplayed a need for stricter weapons laws and
called for tougher enforcement of current regulations – which wouldn’t
have stopped 15-year-old Charles Andrew Williams from grabbing his
father’s .22-caliber revolver – said he’s “saddened” by the
shooting, which he called a “disgraceful act of cowardice.”
Such a comment might be appropriate when directed towards, say,
someone who would take money from an industry with blood on its hands in
order to prosper politically. But it sounds pathetically misdirected when
aimed at a 15-year-old who lashed out after being picked on – and found
his father’s gun a handy implement for his anger.
Instead of discussing the obvious and most
easily-remedied threat to public safety, Bush focused on the hardest thing
to change - human nature: "All of us, all
adults in society, can teach children right from wrong, can explain . . .
that life is precious. All of us must be mindful of . . . the fact that some
people may decide to act out their aggressions or their pain and hurt on
This sounds profound, except for one thing: it does
demonstrably little to stop future violence. Every day, in every town, all
over the world, people become angry and lose control. But
it’s only when a deadly weapon is handy that incandescent rage erupts in
In denying causation and avoiding
the tough, courageous decisions that need to be made, President
Bush and Congressman Hunter are more the rule than the exception.
Here’s what I found when I matched school shootings around the country
with the congressmember representing the immediate area, and then matched
that person to the congressional votes recorded by Handgun Control, a
leading advocate of restrictions on firearm access.
Morris Township, Mich.
Each time another of these school shootings occurs, the
story is treated like a natural disaster. We get the gory details, the human
interest side, and the statements of concern from political leaders –
about the need for better family values. There’s little talk about the
guns themselves – and what can be done to make them less accessible.
Bush and politicians like him get away with avoiding
action because no one holds them responsible. In many other countries, when
politicians fail to take decisive action, the people and the press hammer at
them relentlessly. In France, for example, they tie up traffic, shut down
schools, stay away from work. Here, reporters politely ask the president a
few questions, maybe one or two tough follow-ups, then they move on. Why?
It’s not considered good form to harp – it might seem that a reporter
has an agenda, something discouraged in our version of “objective”
journalism. Even if they want to, politicians by and large can’t
concentrate too heavily or forcefully on one issue, lest their opponents –
and the media – portray them as some kind of nutty crusaders.
The really nutty crusade
these days is the absurd overreaction of school and other officials trying
to stamp out the threat posed by children behaving like children. Here’s a
sampling of so-called school security precautions around the country:
* In New Jersey, a
9-year-old was suspended -- and forced to undergo psychiatric counseling --
for threatening to shoot a classmate with a rubber band.
* A 10-year-old in Colorado
was expelled because her mother put a small knife in her lunch box to cut an
apple. When the girl realized the knife could violate the school's
anti-weapons policy, she turned it over to a teacher. The school then
expelled the girl.
* Three grammar school
students in Colorado were suspended for possessing a weapon -- a water
* A 13-year-old in Arizona,
inspired by the movie “October Sky,” built a rocket -- fueled by three
match heads -- out of a Pringles potato chip canister. When he brought the
potato chip canister to school he was suspended for a year for having a
"weapon." The school also reported him to the police.
* In Michigan, a
third-grader was suspended for showing his classmates a gun-shaped
medallion, slightly larger than a charm for a necklace. He had found the
piece of jewelry in a snow bank. "State law requires us to take action
even though it was a toy," said a school administrator.
* A school in New Jersey
suspended two kindergarten students for playing "cops and robbers"
on the playground. They had pointed their fingers at each other like guns
and shouted, "Bang bang!"
* In Maryland, a school
suspended a 9-year-old after he drew a picture of a gun on a piece of paper.
* A 6-year-old in Colorado
was suspended for violating the school's anti-drug policy after a teacher
saw him share a lemon drop candy with a friend. The school also called an
ambulance for the lemon-drop-eating friend.
The above list, courtesy of
the Progressive Review, was produced by the Libertarian Party which, it
should be noted, opposes gun control.
Not Everyone Avoids the Issue
legislation is obviously not an immediate panacea in a society awash in
guns. But effective laws can start containing and reducing gun violence.
notion has seemingly been lost on many congressmembers, but not on all. Two
school shooting incidents took place in the Richmond, Va. district of Rep.
Robert C. Scott (D). On Oct. 30, 1995, an 18-year old named Edward Earl
Spellman fired on students outside their high school, wounding four. And on
June 15, 1998, a 14-year-old, Quinshawn Booker, opened fire in the hallway
of Armstrong High School as students took final exams, wounding two adults.
Rep. Scott voted for gun restrictions 10 out of 11 times.
July 26, 1996, an 18-year-old, Yohao Albert Rivas, shot and wounded two
classmates in a stairwell at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles. Local
congressman Henry Waxman (D) voted for gun restrictions 14 out of 16
finally, in Springfield, Ore, on May 21, 1998, a 15-year-old, Kip Kinkel,
opened fire in the school cafeteria, killing two and wounding 22. Later,
Kinkel's parents were found dead in their home. Local congressman Peter
DeFazio (D) apparently switched his position on the gun issue, voting almost
entirely against restrictions before the incident, but voting for restrictions
the last 8 times legislation came before the House.