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Jewish World Review April 22, 1999 /6 Iyar 5759

Tony Snow

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Snacking on
life-splitting agony

(JWR) ---- (
WE LIVE IN THE AGE OF PRURIENCE. Video technology has given us the power to become voyeurs, and few of us have the strength to look away when cameras serve as peepholes into other people's lives.

Hence, the spectacle in Littleton, Colo. Even as bullets were zinging through the hallways of Columbine High School on Tuesday, reporters were swooping to the scene, followed by politicians and priests. All lighted on the premises so they could snack on the life-splitting agony of 2,000 high-school students and their families.

Within 24 hours of the slaughter of 15 innocents, the president appeared three times on national television, empathizing. He encouraged Americans to pray for the victims and families. He talked about healing. He resisted the temptation to engage in overt political grandstanding.

Not everyone followed his lead. Gun-control advocates hustled before cameras and onto the Internet. Politicians talked somberly about their desire to federalize expressions of "compassion" -- tighter restrictions on gun sales, more money for school security and so on.

These displays proved that while we can transmit gore at the speed of light, wisdom moves more sluggishly. Patent nonsense has toured the crime scene, posing as insight.

Begin with assertion that mayhem rules America. The attack on Littleton marked the sixth outbreak of gun and/or bomb violence at a U.S. school in the past two years -- a pattern one might think would mean bad news for all of us. Yet federal figures indicate that school violence is waning. Even with this week's tragedy, the school yard death toll this year seems likely to fall well below the 1995 figure of 42.

Crime statistics also document a slide in violent youth crime -- assault, aggravated assault, rape and murder. The most recent Youth Risk Behavior Study published by the Centers for Disease Control implies fewer high-school kids are packing heat than in previous years. In the survey (which uses 1995 data), the percentage of students who said they had carried a weapon in the previous month fell from to 20 percent from 26.1 percent in 1991; and 8.4 percent had been "threatened or injured with a weapon on school property" during the previous year -- also a significant reduction from four years earlier.

These numbers don't make one want to shout for joy, but they offer some hope that school violence may have peaked during the drug wars of the 1980s and early '90s. The evidence also hints that discipline works: If you put a cop in a school and administrators keep a watchful eye on wayward souls, other kids can study in relative peace.

A few obvious factors contributed to the assault on Columbine High School. First, the murderers were evil and proud of it. Ronald Federici, a psychologist renowned for his treatment of violent adolescents, notes that kids who kill usually "leave a trail of red flags a mile long." The presumed murderers in this case had pulled guns on others, wallowed in a cult of violence, worshipped Hitler and seemed inclined to weird psycho-sexual tortures. For this, they got a special place in the school yearbook -- sort of the Satanic version of the chess club.

Federici cites another seemingly obvious factor: Bad kids don't fear punishment. Many have figured out how to tell shrinks what they want to hear -- and gleefully exploit therapists' desires to seem "tolerant." This gives the kids a sense of intellectual invincibility. "There's an epidemic of people who think they have permission to be violent," Federici notes.

"They figure they can get away with it by working the psychiatric route or that they can get out of jail time. They don't fear the criminal justice system. They are fearless of authority."

Apropos of that, Federici sees a literal revenge of the nerds: "Kids who have been picked on are getting even. ... The criminal justice system is filled with assaults and batteries. They're not going after their parents, they're going after other kids."

None of this will console the victims of the slaughter, including the killers' families. Nor does it lend itself to facile legislative "solutions." Just as politics tends to be local, so does salvation. Hence, the best solution to violence may not be new laws, but old-fashioned common sense -- which applies to parents, neighbors, friends and school authorities:

If a kid starts killing animals, get help immediately.

If he -- and most of the killers are males -- starts slathering on makeup like Marilyn Manson, step in.

If he starts scribbling down bomb recipes, take action.

If he begins collecting an arsenal and building bombs, call the cops. It is tempting to look the other way when a good kid goes bad. But that's an awful decision. Sometimes nothing fires a youngster's anger as much as adults who, seeing him behave like a monster, don't care enough to say: "Stop."


04/15/99: Starr’s last stand?
04/12/99: Combining punishment and proselytism
04/05/99: Now that the ‘honorables’ have returned …
03/29/99: And the senators pressed on
03/25/99: Moronic meddling
03/22/99: Kangas, the Left’s ‘Foster’? More like a diligent nut
03/18/99: Does Forbes have a chance?
03/15/99: Team Clinton aren’t treasonists ...
03/11/99: Blackmun’s burden
03/08/99: The Lewinsky Principle
03/05/99: Buchanan & Ventura’s lure
03/01/99: Open season on women
02/25/99: The birth of political wisdom
02/22/99: Children of optimism
02/18/99: Wake up, Republicans!
02/16/99: Why we feel so good
02/11/99: What exactly does George W. stand for?
02/08/99: Run, GOPers, run?
02/04/99: The languid sigh of waves lapping ashore
02/01/99: Verbal vortex
01/28/99: To be a ‘sell-out’ or an unelectable pol --- that is the question
01/25/99: The apogee of a trend
01/21/99:What my 3-year-old taught me
01/17/99:Don't be fooled, folks
01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate