Thursday, April 22, 1999

Are gun lovers ready to face bloody truth?




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When we go looking for an explanation for Tuesday's massacre in a Littleton, Colo., high school, let's not overlook the obvious.

        Guns. Lots of guns.

        Guns everywhere.

        Guns that will blow a hole in the side of a brick building.

        Handguns. Assault rifles.

        Guns with telescopes.

        Too many guns, too easy to get.

        There have always been loony teen-age boys. But they used to blow apart the toilets in the locker room with firecrackers. Now they shoot their schoolmates. You use what you have. And they have guns.

The sad grandpa
        They are not buying them from international gunrunners. They're getting them from family and neighbors. The Journal of the American Medical Association says more than 1.2 million elementary school-age children have access to guns in their homes.

        Sometimes they steal them. Two boys, 13 and 11, said they stole guns from a grandfather to kill four classmates and a teacher a year ago. The old man said he felt just terrible.

        Do you have a couple in your closet you aren't using? Destroy them. Do you have some guns you intend to keep? Put locks on them. Even if you don't think somebody you know would take them.

        “I can't believe this could happen here,” a Littleton girl sobbed.

        Neither can we, but we're learning it can happen anywhere. We can't tell ourselves that we don't live there, that we don't walk down those dark streets, that we don't send our children to schools like these. We do.

        Blood, yards of yellow crime-scene tape, walls pocked by bullets, scattered books, hysterical kids, sobbing parents. In the past 18 months, at least 14 people have been killed in and around schools, and another 46 wounded. Oregon. Tennessee. Pennsylvania. Arkansas. Kentucky. Mississippi.

        And three days after the prom, Columbine High School — named for a flower — joins the list. The school is just southwest of Denver, site of this year's National Rifle Association convention. How will Charlton Heston and his pals explain this one? Lack of parental control?

        Somebody on public radio thinks it's because of video games. And somebody on one of the morning news shows thinks we should blame violence on television. Somebody else thinks teachers were asleep at the switch.

        A teacher friend of mine says, “We can tell if a kid is disturbed. We just don't know which ones have guns.”

        And that's the point, really. Guns were a component of every one of these schoolyard rampages. Sometimes there were also knives. In this case, there were pipe bombs and explosives. But always guns.

NRA mantra
        At the convention in Denver, will the NRA repeat its mantra: “Guns don't kill people. People kill people.” Or will they challenge members to take responsibility for their guns? Why aren't locks installed on every gun sold in this country? And if it's an old gun, why don't owners add a lock? How much more encouragement do they need?

        It is illegal for children to own guns in Colorado. Maybe legislators could tweak this law. Gun owners in Massachusetts who don't use safety locks or place firearms in a secured container risk a $10,000 fine and 10 years in jail.

        Perhaps one day law enforcement officials will begin to solve these hideous crimes by collecting all the guns they find next to young bodies scattered in hallways and classrooms. Then they can track down the owners of these weapons.

        They would explain: “Guns don't kill people. People with guns kill people. And some people had your guns. You are an accessory to murder.”

        Shoot-to-kill video games? Violence on television? The Internet? Insanity? Evil? We don't know why these boys did what they did. But we know what they used to do it.

E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com Her column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

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