- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

When children are involved in tragedies such as yesterday's shooting at a high school in Santee, Calif., it's bad enough. Young lives cut short abruptly by the actions of a disturbed person it's an extremely difficult thing to fathom, let alone respond to.

According to news reports, 15-year-old high school freshman Charles "Andy" Williams methodically shot and killed two classmates and wounded 13 others smiling as he went and stopping at least once to reload the revolver he used in the attack before being taken into custody by sheriff's deputies. He is being held without bond and apparently will be charged, appropriately, as an adult with murder.

Unfortunately, it's a good bet that some will respond to this tragedy in an entirely inappropriate way, some out of misdirected emotional energy, others out of cold cynicism. There will be calls for more gun control, for the sake of "the children."

It is a famous elixir, a brand of snake oil peddled for many years as the "solution to all that ails us." And while the cry of the peddler has a certain appeal in our hearts, our heads know better. Or ought to. The presence of firearms in our society is not a new thing; school shootings, however, are a recent development. Unheard of 20 years ago, they now occur with alarming regularity. The most infamous and bloody one having taken place a mere two years ago at Columbine High in Colorado.

It's an intellectually painless process to blame firearms for these random acts of mayhem. But it absolves the person making the argument of any need to probe deeper, to ask the more troubling questions such as why young people have become so emotionally stunted, so devoid of human empathy, that they are able to contemplate, then execute, acts as horrible as those which took place at Columbine and Santee, and at other places less infamous. What is killing the souls of these children? And what of the society in which they grew up? Certainly, if young Andy Williams is indeed responsible for these brutal murders, he should be held to account. But what turned him and the other children like him into such monsters? Like Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the shooters at Columbine High, we are presented with yet another teen so dead inside that ending the lives of others presented no greater difficulty than zapping aliens in an electronic arcade game. Amid material abundance, we encounter a spiritual and moral vacuum. Why?

These are the questions that need answering. What we don't need are facile "solutions" that ignore what's happening to our kids and which rely instead on pat, formulaic calls for more gun control.

Not so very long ago, deadly violence was unheard of in American schools even in the worst "inner-city" schools, where somehow the "culture of poverty" had not yet destroyed the family unit or torn asunder value systems that acted to keep intact the social order. There were guns then, as there are today. Most American adults can recall where Dad, or Grampa, kept his rifle or revolver. Yet it never occurred to the young Americans of previous generations to bring these weapons into a school let alone to use them against another person. What has changed from that time to ours? Answer that, and you will know how to deal with, perhaps even prevent, future rampages such as the melee at Santee High School.

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