Wednesday, March 01, 2000

First-grade felony

Okay, that's it. My kids are never leaving the house again.

The news from Michigan yesterday was not the first tale of school violence, goodness knows. But I could always rationalize it before. They were always older children---high school, middle school. There always seemed to be time before my 1st grader and 2nd grader would have to deal with armed classmates, and maybe by then America would have seen the light and gotten rid of guns once and for all. Big kids might be disturbed enough to instigate violence, but little kids? Maybe someone might bring in a pocket knife for show and tell and be suspended for it, but that's about as dangerous as it gets, right?

Wrong. Now we have 6-year-olds killing 6-year-olds. The incident in Mount Morris Township started with a playground dispute, one child hitting another. The kind of thing that goes on every day, at your kids' school, at my kids' school. But at these kids' school, the animosity between the 1st-graders didn't end with somebody going to the principal, or somebody getting time out. It ended with a little boy bringing a gun to school and shooting a little girl in the neck.

How does a 6-year-old get a hold of a gun, anyway, much less one with bullets and no lock? As of this writing, authorities were still trying to figure that out. What they do know is that whoever put that firearm where a child could find it is in a heap of trouble. The boy is too young to even be held accountable for murder, but the adults in his life can be held accountable for giving him the murder weapon. I'd suggest that that accountability be extended to lawmakers and lobbyists who are more interested in protecting gun owners than protecting 6-year-olds, but that would probably be the ravings of a now-paranoid Mom with no perspective on the issue at all.

Has it come to this--that we need metal detectors at elementary schools? Do we need to teach gun safety like we teach fire safety? Does Sesame Street need to run through a few armed-gunman scenarios to show kids appropriate defensive maneuvers? Does Oshkosh need to add bulletproof vests to its clothing line? What does Mr. Rogers have to say about all this? Does Blue have a clue?

Surely some scrap of evidence will surface that will let me believe that it couldn't happen at my kids' school. But I'm not so sure. The boy is being described as a behavior problem--but my son has been described as a behavior problem, too. So have most of his classmates. So, I'd guess, have a goodly percentage of boys in any elementary school around. Must we consider them all potential gunslingers? How do you tell the ones who'll stop at hitting from the ones who'll stop at nothing?

It's a dangerous world, and in one way or another it always has been. But I didn't think it was going to turn out to be this dangerous, this soon. I know I can't protect my kids forever. But for now, homeschooling is starting to look mighty good.

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