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Jewish World Review March 10, 2000/ 3 Adar II, 5760

Cathy Young

Cathy Young
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When children without a moral center kill --
"Guns don't kill people, people kill people"

This National Rifle Association slogan has been widely treated as a joke -- as evidence of the folly and hypocrisy of gun fanatics. And yet, looking at the terrible tragedy of 6-year-old Kayla Rolland, shot to death by a first-grade classmate in Mount Morris Township, it is hard not to think that the slogan has some truth to it.

Yes, it was a bullet from a .32-caliber revolver, which the boy found under some laundry at home, that ended Kayla's life. "Home" is a relative term; it was a flophouse full of illegal drugs, stolen guns, and grown-up criminals. If the boy, who had previously stabbed a classmate with a pencil, had found a switchblade instead of a gun, it's quite possible that Kayla would be just as dead.

Genesee County Prosecutor Arthur Busch has called the boy a "victim of the drug culture and a home that is in chaos." This is a child whose father has been in prison for most of the past ten years, and whose mother, a drug user convicted of abusing another son, had dumped her two kids in a crack house after getting evicted from her home.

In this case, even some pro-gun control commentators, such as New York Newsday columnist Sheryl McCarthy, have sensed that the problem runs deeper than lack of gun control.

Nonetheless, we have also heard the usual chorus of "How many more children have to die before we do something?" President Clinton has lamented Congress's failure to mandate child-safety trigger locks on all new handguns.

That may or may not be a good idea (depending on how much hindrance a lock would pose to an adult who needs to defend her/himself in an emergency), but such a law wouldn't have stopped any shooting involving any of the 65 million handguns that Americans already own. Besides, a thug like the 19-year-old drug dealer who had allegedly showed off the gun to the 6-year-old shooter could have easily disabled a trigger lock for convenience.

Ironically, in Sunday's Washington Post, Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center, a leading gun control advocacy group, ridiculed the notion of a trigger lock as the solution: "Considering the people who went in and out of that house, [this] expectation would strike most people as absurd on its face." What we need, Sugarmann believes, is to ban handguns. Well, considering the people who went in and out of that house, the expectation that any law could have kept it gun-free certainly strikes me as absurd on its face.

After all, it was a crack house where drugs were routinely traded for guns. Drugs, in case the Violence Policy Center hasn't noticed, are already illegal and subject to what many believe are excessively draconian laws -- which don't seem to have had much deterrent effect.

Predictably, Kayla's death has been the occasion for a lot of demagoguery about "the children." Clinton says that 13 children die from gunfire every day -- without mentioning that this includes everyone under 19, and that 85% of the juvenile victims are over 16. Of course these deaths are tragic, but an 18-year-old gang member is hardly a child.

In 1997, 630 children under 15 died from gun injuries -- a considerable drop from the 1993 figure of 957 but still no reason to celebrate. But let's not forget that the same year, nearly 1,000 children drowned, over 2,000 died in car accidents, and more than 600 were murdered without firearms.

And here's something else to remember. The same day that the news of Kayla's shooting shocked the nation, murder charges were filed in Germany against three American teenagers -- children of soldiers stationed at a U.S. army base -- who had killed two people and injured five. There wasn't a gun in the picture. The kids had been throwing rocks off a highway overpass.

When children without a moral center are intent on inflicting harm, they will find a way, guns or no guns.

JWR contributor Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Women’s Freedom Network and author of Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality Send your comments to her by clicking here.

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©2000, Cathy Young