le 15 mai 1999
MUSINGS BY MADDOCKS
by Ralph Maddocks
One of the problems of writing for a periodical is finding something to
write about that other contributors will not write about at the same time.
Unfortunately, dramatic events occasionally strike us all simultaneously
and so it happens that this piece touches upon aspects of a topic dealt
with so elegantly by Martin in the last issue of Le Québécois
Libre (see LITTLETON, LES ARMES ET LA CIVILISATION,
le QL no 36). Having written most of
it before that issue appeared, I offer it anyway. The news of a Made in
Canada version, fortunately with less horrendous results, seems to have
had similar origins in spite of our esteemed gun laws.
The echo of the last gunshot ending the lives of Eric Harris and Dylan
Klebold had hardly died away when the experts were all over television
pontificating about why this tragedy had happened. « Who
was to blame? », « What caused this
tragedy? », « Can we stop it from
happening again? » and so on, in mind numbing iteration.
A Colorado legislator reported receiving e-mails and messages on his answering
machine before the gun smoke had cleared away. As one writer in an American
e-zine put it, « In the land of no good explanations,
the man with the daffiest explanation is king ».
All the usual suspects were paraded before the viewers, the influence of
televison, movies, videos, computer games and the media. Not necessarily
in that order, but all were mentioned within a few hours. Most common among
the emotional outpourings were calls for ever more repressive gun laws,
the limiting of handgun possession to those charged with enforcing the
law. In his inimitable style, playing to the emotional sensitivities of
the bereaved parents, the country’s president called for more gun controls.
Most politicians jumped on the opportunity to lobby against many of the
gun rights bills pending in state legislatures.
On one TV panel with John Lott, probably the best informed and most knowledgeable
academic on the subject of guns and their effects, the opposition was provided
by some do-gooder whose name was so memorable that I have forgotten it.
Lott cited the diminishing crime rate in the thirty odd states which have
gun carrying permits available to the honest citizen. His opponent dismissed
this as simply more statistics and said that guns should be banned completely.
Obviously a gentleman who didn’t allow facts to disturb his preconceptions
and remained totally impervious to rational argument.
In the past two years, the US public has feasted upon TV images of small
town schools surrounded by yellow police tape, ambulance attendants wheeling
bodies away on gurneys and children being driven away in handcuffs. We
witnessed too, the mass media descending into the likes of Jonesboro, Arkansas;
Pearl, Mississippi; West Paducah, Kentucky; Edinboro, Pennsylvania and
Springfield, Oregon. All relatively small towns which filled our screens
for days until some other violent or newsworthy act distracted them. A
non-fatal shooting in Virginia resulted in shrieking headlines, because
it occurred in a high school hallway during final exams. Panic reigned
in the streets as parents and children suddenly became afraid for their
safety at school. Even in a community which had experienced a 26% decline
in juvenile crime, a community which hadn’t had an adult or a juvenile
arrested for murder in the previous two years, the school’s principal still
thought that it could happen in his school.
Murder by numbers
It might be appropriate at this point to cite a few relevant statistics(1).
Firstly, 85% of all the communities in the USA recorded no juvenile homicides
in 1995 and over 93% had one or no juvenile arrests for murder. The ratio
of juvenile murder victims killed by adults compared to those killed by
other juveniles is three to one. Just 3% of all murders in the US consist
of an under 18 year old killing another person under that same age. The
best data on the specific threat of school-associated violent death reveals
that children face a one in a million chance of being killed at school.
Other research shows that the number of school shooting deaths has declined
slightly since 1992. The number of children killed by gun violence in schools
is about half the number of Americans killed annually by lightning strikes!
In 1992-1993 there were 55 shooting deaths in US schools; in 1993-1994,
51; in 1994-1995, 20; in 1995-1996, 35, 1996-1997, 25; and 40 in 1997-1998.
number of children killed
by gun violence in schools
is about half the number
killed annually by lightning
Looking over these statistics and at those covering Juvenile Arrests for
Homicide in School Shooting Communities during the 1990s, one finds that
from 1990 to 1997 one arrest was made in each of three different years,
two arrests were made in one year (1992) and three in each of two years
(1993 Jonesboro & 1994 Paducah, West Virginia). Thus, while there is
no such thing as a zero threat to school children when they go to a US
school, it is obviously not all that significant; the chances of being
struck by a vehicle are most probably greater. Many of the shootings took
place at rural schools, as opposed to urban schools populated by children
mainly of darker hue.
While commiserating with the bereaved parents – the pain of losing a child
is probably one of the least forgettable of personal tragedies – the politicians
who leap upon these events to make political capital deserve our contempt.
Some politicians have unthinkingly proposed that children as low as 11
years of age should be charged with capital offences and that those as
young as 10 should be tried in adult court. One Southern politician has
even proposed that there be no age limit for anyone charged with premeditated
murder; they should be tried as an adult.
Calls such as the above make little sense and will in no way prevent the
next massacre from occurring when some discontented or deranged adolescent
decides to go berserk. Banning Internet sites and outlawing rifle magazines
à la Senator Diane Feinstein will only fuel the ingenuity
of those who are determined to give expression to whatever it is that is
affecting their self-esteem. Bans on wearing long trench coats will equally
accomplish little; especially since the next assassins are likely to be
wearing bikini shorts with Semtex moulded to their anorexic juvenile bodies.
Until someone is able to predict such behaviour we shall probably see such
a massacres again, even if only so that some maniac will want to hold a
record for slaughtering the most innocents on one occasion.
These massacres are occurring at a time when US
gun and explosives controls are at their most restrictive ever. Sales of
firearms to minors are forbidden, there are background checks on the purchase
of arms or explosives. All this legislation has had the effect of decreasing
people’s desire to protect themselves; the siren song of gun legislation
has served simply to lull people into a false sense of security. In an
ideal world, it might seem nice to have armed police protection available
24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In the real world we inhabit, such protection
is called a police state and is not something most people want.
A country with perhaps the most restrictive hand gun laws among all the
democracies, England, has just increased the number of armed police patrols
because armed crime is increasing rapidly, in spite of the fact that nobody
is supposed to have guns; just policemen and the criminals of course.
1. School shootings and the
real risks kids face in America,
by Elizabeth Donohue, Vincent Schiraldi, and Jason Ziedenberg. >>
de Ralph Maddocks