I will apologize up front. This post is going to get a little ranty. I wrote The Girl in the Park because I could not get the murder of Jennifer Levin out of my mind. When I was young, the fact that a girl my age had been killed—by someone our age—was shocking to me. It is still shocking to me.
Even more shocking? Kids even younger than Jennifer Levin are now being murdered. In school. And we seem unable to do anything about it.
Since the shooting in Chardon, Ohio, we have three more children who went to school and never came home because some jerk was able to get his hands on a gun and make himself feel better by shooting people.
Those children’s names were Daniel Parmertor, Demetrius Hewlin, and Russell King. Two of them were 16. One was 17. I don’t want to call them young men, because that sounds as if they were old enough to get shot. As if they were in the military. They weren’t. They were in school. They were students. Children.
Does jerk sound harsh? I guess it does. Some people have suggested the Ohio shooter was bullied. A few days after the shooting, Marlo Thomas wrote in the Huffington Post: “Tragedy in Ohio: When the Bullied Strike Back.” Implying that the Ohio shooter finally rose up in a righteous rage and shot three people who had tormented him for years.
I applaud Ms. Thomas for fighting bullying. But I think she’s wrong about the Chardon shooter.
Ever since Columbine, we like to think that school shootings are a toxic byproduct of bullying. If you end bullying, you’ll end school shootings. Bullying is evil and must be fought as evil. It should not be fought because it causes kids to snap and start shooting people. Most school shooting cases are a lot more complicated than that. Recent evidence has indicated the Columbine shooters weren’t quite the victimized geeks portrayed in the media. (For more, read David Cullen’s excellent book, Columbine, or his piece in Slate.) And while some kids have said the Chardon shooter was bullied, there are many other factors to this story. He grew up in a violent home. He was in a school for kids struggling with mental or emotional issues. He had recently broken up with his girlfriend, who may or may not have been dating one of the boys who was killed.
He had a lot of reasons to be angry. A lot of kids do. Even if you ended bullying tomorrow, you would not stop kids from feeling alone or angry or depressed. But we could do a lot more to stop those kids from getting guns and using them to express their rage and despair.
You are not allowed to have guns in Ohio until you are 21. This 17-year-old got a .22-caliber handgun. How? He went to his grandfather’s barn and took it. His grandfather had taught him how to use it. And unfortunately, this very caring man never thought that his grandson would use it for anything but target practice and hunting in the woods. So he did not keep that gun in a locked, secure place.
Opponents of gun control say we have laws. Opponents of gun control say that only bad people misuse guns and the rest of us need guns to protect ourselves from those bad people. Some of them want more guns in schools, guns in daycare, guns in churches.
Does anyone else think this sounds like a nightmare? Does anyone think the way we handle guns now is making us safe?
According to a recent report from the Children’s Defense fund, 3,042 children and teens died from gunfire in America in 2007.
That’s one child every three hours.
Eight children every day.
Fifty-eight children every week.
Imagine your classroom. Imagine every three hours, one kid in your classroom dies. Then another, and another, and another. It wouldn’t even take a week for that classroom to be empty.
And almost six times as many children—17,523—suffered non-fatal gun injuries.
Is this what we want?