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Jewish World Review March 12, 2001 / 17 Adar, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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Consumer Reports

School disasters -- TEST scores are not the only things that tell us how bad our public schools have become. In San Francisco, the school board voted unanimously to have the city's students take Friday, March 9th, off to go to Berkeley, in order to stage a protest demonstration, demanding the reinstatement of affirmative action in the university's admissions policies.

Only after the Berkeley police contacted San Francisco education officials was the rally called off. The police were concerned about such logistical things as where all the buses carrying students from San Francisco were going to be parked and where all these students were going to eat. A school board member then admitted, "there would be no easy way to get that many kids over and back."

The more basic question is why these children's education was being sacrificed to some teachers' and administrators' political project. Nor is this the first time that school children have been used as political cannon fodder or as guinea pigs for social experiments. Nor is California the only place where this happens.

Nothing is easier than to call any project or activity engaged in by a school "educational."

So long as parents and voters buy it, the schools will keep selling it. But one of the big reasons students in other countries consistently outperform American students on international tests is that many other countries' students are actually being taught academic subjects while ours are spending their time on "activities" and "projects" that our education officials call "exciting."

An even more grim example of what is wrong with our schools are the fatal shooting sprees that have broken out at various schools across the country, most recently in Santana High School near San Diego. Gun control advocates have seized upon this incident to call for more gun control laws. Facts don't seem to bother gun control advocates, but let's look at some facts anyway.

Many of the guns used in various deadly shooting sprees -- in schools, at workplaces and elsewhere -- were perfectly legal under existing gun control laws and would remain perfectly legal under new gun control laws that are being proposed. Moreover, even if guns were outlawed completely, there would still be a couple of hundred million guns already in existence in American society, and they are not going to disappear into thin air.

Guns don't wear out very fast and may never wear out if properly cared for. So the current 200 million or so guns in existence today may still be around two centuries from now, even if laws ban any new guns from being produced or imported.

But none of these facts is likely to affect gun control crusaders. They must have their symbolic victories, whether with trigger locks and other cumbersome devices that make it harder to use a gun in self-defense or with other petty and costly nuisances that law-abiding citizens will be put through. Meanwhile, violent criminals will be wholly unaffected, since they are in the business of violating laws anyway. The only effect on criminals will be to make their victims less able to defend themselves, thereby making mugging, burglary and armed robbery safer occupations.

There is another aspect of this that needs to be considered because it also has a bearing on the gun controllers' arguments and assumptions. At Santana High School, as at Columbine and other high schools where fatal shootings have occurred, people have been particularly shocked because these were affluent, predominantly white schools. Given the much higher rates of violence in low-income and ghetto schools, why have these shooting sprees seldom, if ever, occurred there?

For better or worse, there are likely to be more armed people in or near schools in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Some have armed guards in the schools themselves. Some have armed gangs in or near the schools.

In other words, when you open fire in a school in a high-crime neighborhood, you are likely to face more bullets coming back your way. It is in nice, wholly disarmed, affluent white schools that a gun makes you instant king of the hill -- at least until armed police arrive on the scene. The needless and tragic deaths at Columbine, Santana and other schools where shooting sprees have snuffed out young lives are part of the high cost already being paid for the fetish of disarming law-abiding people.

We don't need to make this tragedy even worse by disarming more people all across the country.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate