Government Not Answer

The killings at Columbine High School in Littleton stunned America. Many articles mention how it was just one of a series of incidents at US schools in which at least 14 people were killed and more than 40 wounded in less than two years. That makes it sound like a trend, but I don't think it is. The fact that it made headlines in England and Japan prove that school violence is still bizarre enough to not be considered a trend. Yet.

The murder/suicides in Littleton were extremely unusual. For one, there were a lot of killings at once. That's why a single plane crash with a large number of victims makes more news than the 100 separate car accidents daily that result in over a hundred deaths/day. Another reason the killings were unordinary is that most murders occur between acquaintances or family members over real or perceived slights, embarrassments, or threats. Random, deadly violence between strangers is different, hence newsworthy.

But being newsworthy doesn't mean Congress needs to get involved. Vermont Republican James Jeffords, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, said he hoped to hold hearings, possibly in May, to examine the "very haunting questions'' of Columbine High school and also wanted to study broader social trends, including school dropouts, gangs, and "societal shifts'' that lead young people to become so deeply alienated or amoral. The top Democrat on the panel, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, endorsed the idea. Sounds like another government program in the making, despite the fact that the growth of big government exactly corresponds to the growth of social problems.

Making more rules for miscreants to break isn't any sort of a solution. Sawed off shotguns and pipe bombs are already illegal. So is murder. And metal detectors in schools aren't going to make any difference unless they are guarded by armed officers. The two wackos at Columbine shot people in the parking lot before entering the school. A beeping metal detector wouldn't have slowed them down. And an armed guard just means he has to be the first target.

Social intervention is a better solution, yet even that is fraught with difficulty. Many kids dress and talk and act oddly trying to find a persona they're comfortable with, trying on various ways of becoming an adult. We can't not allow teenagers to test new behaviors. And we certainly shouldn't create a culture of paranoia where everyone dresses and acts identically for fear of being sent to some educational gulag. That won't decrease hatred nor will it be any sort of celebration of diversity.

We need to somehow increase personal responsibility because in the outside, adult world, intervention doesn't occur. The police do not provide protection to anyone. You can only call them after the fact. The cops can only clean up after the mess made by someone who didn't follow the rules. A woman can't get a restraining order or police protection until after she's been battered. Can, or even should, a teacher or principal or counselor intervene if someone tattles on someone else?

The people in Littleton and surrounding communities need to grieve. But the very uniqueness of this tragedy, the reason it draws reporters looking for sound bites and politicians looking for votes by saying we need to do something about gun control or bomb-making information on the web or violence in the schools, actually means that school deaths are not some growing trend that requires governmental solutions.

The solution to retaining good social values is personal. People need to realize they are individually responsible for their own actions. This won't occur through any government program. We certainly aren't getting a good example of personal responsibility from the President. So the best thing Jeffords and his cohort could do is dismantle existing programs because big government is discouraging people from taking charge of their own lives.