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Pointing Fingers Over Colorado

Politicians Must Think Carefully Before Rushing to Blame

Kris Schnee

On April 20, two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, brought an arsenal of weapons to class. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris tried to slaughter their classmates in a cafeteria, then traveled through the building, eventually killing twelve fellow students, a teacher, and themselves. Authorities also discovered numerous bombs scattered around the campus -- one included a heavy propane tank -- indicating that Harris and Klebold originally intended to destroy the entire school. This disaster is only the latest in a rash of school shootings across the country over the last few years. And now another battle, this one political, begins as everyone in America tries to find someone or something to blame.

Take the President, for example. He has decided to place the blame on guns and use the shooting to his political advantage. With the emotional plea that we must take action against school violence to “honor the memories of those who lost their lives,” he pushed for several new gun-control initiatives. One would violate the policy of wiping minors’ criminal records clean at age 18 by permanently forbidding violent juvenile offenders from owning guns. Another, which would require gun makers to put “child-safety locks” on guns, has nothing to do with school shootings; such locks prevent small children from accidentally firing guns, not teenagers from intentionally using them. And a third would raise the minimum age for owning “assault weapons” from 18 to 21. This move is also strange, given that even the older Colorado shooter was only 18, and that many of the earlier school killers were well under that age. Not surprisingly, Clinton takes advantage of the situation for his own benefit, not necessarily the children’s.

Vice President Al Gore makes slightly less sense. For him, the culprit is “excessive violence in the media.” Like many other Americans, Gore blames American culture, and proposes that we solve our problems by granting the government more power. Rather than suggesting that if we want to get rid of violent music, TV, and movies, we should stop buying them, Gore wants to have “V-chip” equipment installed in televisions by federal mandate (at an initial price of $70 each). Should we assume, then, that parents would take better care of their kids’ minds if only they had a new technological gadget, and that the kids will not be able to find a way around it? And will parents who would fail to notice their children adoring Hitler and building bombs pay enough attention to them to monitor their TV time?

It is also interesting to note that some people blame video games for causing violence. For those of us who can distinguish reality from fantasy, a good game of “Quake” is simply entertainment; it apparently causes no mental problems for most people. It is worth carefully studying whether an addiction to violent video games is a cause or a symptom of real violence (or both, or neither), but it makes little sense simply to assume that exposure to virtual violence poisons the minds of some people.

One of the most shocking episodes of the Colorado massacre raises questions of religion. One of the shooters caught student Cassie Bernall reading a Bible, and asked her if she believed in God. When she said yes, he laughed and asked “Why?” before killing her. Now she is being described as a martyr. But the Columbine community still seeks explanations for her death; a recent Boston Globe article reports that among Columbine’s local church youth group “is a shared certainty that God is using the victims as a vehicle to spread a message of faith.” This is a contemptible belief. Effectively, by claiming that God actively intervened after the shooting, this belief places blame squarely on God for not intervening before fifteen people died! But God deserves neither credit nor blame for the shooting or its aftermath; the Columbine community is looking in the wrong place for answers.

While the victim’s friends and relatives can be excused for being a bit unreasonable right now, several Republican presidential candidates cannot. In announcing his campaign, Gary Bauer blamed school violence on a lack of religion, and recommended a nonsensical solution: “We have to return voluntary school prayer and I would permit a teacher to hang up the Ten Commandments in the classroom.” Imagine the scene: A teenager in a trenchcoat is about to spray his classmates with gunfire when he notices a sign on the wall saying “Thou shalt not kill,” then drops his gun, falls on his knees, and thanks the Lord! Or does Bauer think that establishing a religion by hanging the Decalogue on public schools’ walls will change the minds of people like Harris and Klebold, two people who obviously cared nothing for traditional ideas of morality? Pat Buchanan moralized even more on the Colorado shooting: “America got a glimpse of the last stop on that train to hell she boarded decades ago when we declared that God is dead and that each of us is his or her own God who can make up the rules as we go along.” Not only did Buchanan accuse all non-believers of dragging America to hell, and equate disbelief in the Commandments with a total lack of morality, he also failed to say what he would do about our “polluted” culture, other than that as President he would try to make filmmakers “use restraint.” One can only speculate on how Buchanan would try to control the media to suit his taste.

It is natural that when something so unexpected and terrible as the Colorado shooting happens, we look for answers and explanations. But when some people, perhaps intentionally, take advantage of tragedy to push their own political agenda, blame is likely to be spread where it is undeserved, and quick fixes offered for the problem instead of real, practical solutions. We need to think carefully before pointing fingers.

Brace yourselves; you will hear of this again.