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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.

Another school shooting, more utterly avoidable death. This time it was in suburban Southern California.  “I must tell you that this could happen in any town in America if it can happen in a town such as Santee,” said the town’s mayor at a press conference. “We are America.”

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 somebody else."

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 mass murder.

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.

Santee, Calif.
March 5, 2001
A 15-year-old, Charles Andrew Williams, allegedly using a .22-caliber revolver, slays two students and wounds 13 others at Santana High School. Local congressman Duncan Hunter (R) voted against gun restrictions 16 out of 16 times.

Lake Worth, Fla.
May 26, 2000
A 13-year-old, Nathaniel Brazill, fatally shoots a teacher on the last day of classes. Local congressman E. Clay Shaw (R) voted against gun restrictions 9 out of 15 times.

Mount Morris Township, Mich.
Feb. 29, 2000
A 6-year-old boy kills a classmate in their first grade classroom. Local congressman  James A. Barcia (D) voted against gun restrictions 10 out of 11 times.

Fort Gibson, Okla.
Dec. 6, 1999
A 13-year-old, Seth Trickey, wounds four students at a farming community middle school 50 miles southeast of Tulsa. Local congressman Brad Carson (D) was not in office until recently.

Deming, N.M.
Nov. 20, 1999
 A 13-year-old, Victor Cordova Jr.,  dressed in camouflage,  shoots a 13-year-old female student in the head, killing her. Local congressman Joe Skeen (R) voted against gun restrictions 16 out of 16 times.

Conyers, Ga.
May 20, 1999
A 15-year-old sophomore, T.J. Solomon, opens fire in Heritage High School, and wounds six classmates. Local congressman John Linder (R) voted against gun restrictions 10 out of 11 times.

Littleton, Colo.
April 20, 1999
An 18-year-old, Eric Harris, and a 17-year-old, Dylan Klebold, heavily armed and clad in black trench coats, kill 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School and injure 23, then turn their weapons on themselves. Local congressman Tom Tancredo (R) voted against gun restrictions 5 out of  5 times.

Fayetteville, Tenn.
May 19, 1998
An 18-year-old, Jacob Davis, opens fire in the parking lot of his high school, killing a classmate who was dating his ex-girlfriend. Davis was an honor student who was due to graduate three days later. Local congressman Van Hilleary (R) voted against gun restrictions 5 out of 6  times.

Edinboro, Pa.
April 24, 1998
A 14-year-old, Andrew Wurst, slays a teacher and wounds three at a school dance. Local congressman Phil English (R) voted against gun restrictions 5 out of  6 times.

Jonesboro, Ark.
March 24, 1998
A 13-year-old, Mitchell Johnson, and an 11-year-old, Andrew Golden, set off a fire alarm at Westside Middle School, then mow down students and teachers as they pour from classrooms. Four female students and a teacher are killed. Local congressman Marion Berry (D) voted for gun restrictions 3 out of 5 times.

Stamps, Ark.
Dec. 15, 1997
A 14-year-old, Joseph Todd, launches a sniper attack outside a high school, wounding two students. Local congressman Michael A. Ross (D) was not in office until recently.

Paducah, Ky.
Dec. 1, 1997
A 14-year-old, Michael Carneal, shoots eight students attending a prayer meeting in his high school; three die. Local congressman Ed Whitfield (R) voted against gun restrictions 5 out of 6 times.

Pearl, Miss.
Oct. 1, 1997
A 16-year-old, Luke Woodham, kills two and wounds seven in the school cafeteria.  Local congressman Charles W. Pickering (R) voted against gun restrictions 5 out of 5 times.

Bethel, Alaska
Feb. 19, 1997
A 16-year-old, Evan Ramsey, having previously made several threats, shoots and kills his school principal and a classmate. Local congressman Don Young (R) voted against gun restrictions 15 out of 16 times.

Moses Lake, Wash.
Feb. 2, 1996
A 14-year-old, Barry Loukaitas, slays his teacher, fatally wounds two teen-age boys and wounds a girl. Local congressman, Doc Hastings (R), voted against gun restrictions 5 out of 6 times.

Olivehurst, Calif.
May 1, 1992
A 20-year-old, Eric Houston, apparently seeking revenge for a failing grade, goes on a rampage at his former high school, killing four and wounding 10. Local congressman Wally Herger (R) voted against gun restrictions 15 out of 16 times.

Criminalizing Children

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 pistol.

* 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

Gun-control legislation is obviously not an immediate panacea in a society awash in guns. But effective laws can start containing and reducing gun violence.

That 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.

On 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 times.

And 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.

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