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The Tired Cycle of School Violence

Ken Nesmith

On Monday, Charles Williams brought a gun to Santana High School in suburban San Diego and shot fifteen people, killing two, in an assault police called “well-planned.” The nation can now observe a few seconds of silence, please ... okay, that’s enough; this is America after all, a fast-paced nation if ever one there was. Now; on your marks, get set, go! Guncontrolviolencecultureparentsmusic -- (breath) -- legislationNRAbullyingmovies -- it won’t take long for you to get tired of the conflicting efforts to pin blame for the tragedy on some singular cause and berate it into the ground.

Occasionally, some marvelous insight will surface in a letter to an editor or a line in a Newsweek article, observing that perhaps it was a combination of factors that led to the attack from an otherwise “well-mannered” kid who was often picked on, but this won’t change the face of the debate significantly.

President Bush has taken a strong stand on the killings; he is against them. Curiously describing this fatal expression of an angry teen’s violent frustrations as a “disgraceful act of cowardice,” he has professed support for “some gun control,” and has specifically cited a desire to close a loophole that allows guns to be more purchased more easily at gun shows than at gun shops. When asked what could be done to prevent this sort of thing from happening at all, he keenly noted that we should teach children right from wrong.

Had Williams been aware that what he was doing was wrong, and that wrong things should not be done, he might not have done this at all. That logical chain clearly fell apart for Williams at some point. Still, in the coming days, several other politicians are also expected to come forth to announce their opposition to the killings and to the killings of American children in general.

Gun-control advocates will speculate that this could have been avoided if stricter laws were in place to keep guns out of the hands of fifteen-year-olds. Perhaps a small, grassroots lobbying effort will find its way to Congress to plead for some form of more strict gun legislation. The NRA, clever fellows that they are, will stall the debate until the volcano of public opinion returns to predictable dormancy, and a Republican Congress that would rather not increase control of guns can leave the issue behind until the next schoolyard slaughter.

Concurrently, congressmen and congresswomen who do their part to prevent gun-control legislation from passing will find themselves suddenly loaded with cash; but perhaps I have cause and effect reversed, and it is the money that will inspire their inhibitory efforts. A spate of newsmagazine articles will give dramatic analyses and recountings of the event. We’ll have interviews with witnesses, grievance counselors will be brought in, and those people who heard the threats that they did not take seriously will have the dreadful burden of their own guilt and self-doubt doubled and tripled by aggressive dictates that they should have stopped the killings.

This is all a tired cycle, and it understandably feels numbing and uninteresting. But maybe we can try to take some small bit of meaning from this event that probably won’t otherwise directly affect our lives at all.

Think of the most important person in your life in vivid detail; everything you know about them, their face, their voice, the way they talk, laugh, smile; look at them in your mind right now. Imagine how absolutely hellish, silent, and empty your life would become if they were to be shot dead tomorrow, cleanly torn from the world without a moment’s notice. They’re still here now, though, so for your good and theirs, let them know what they’re worth while you can.