A Call to Action on Behalf of the Student and Families of Columbine High School

Here we are with our annual baby and maternity issue--seventy-six pages filled with the celebration of new life--yet in our office, as we piece these hopeful pages together, the recent tragedy in Littleton, Colorado overshadows our work and dominates our conversation.

Why? Why are these school shootings happening--seven times in two years? What, as one Japanese editorial asked, is wrong with the gun culture of America?

Commentary about the massacre has thus far focused primarily on two facets of the problem: 1) excessive availibility and ease of acquiring guns, and 2) a failure on the part of responsible professionals to take action on behalf of youth who exhibit obvious signs of serious emotional and psychological disturbances.

However, as one father expressed on NPR's Talk of the Nation program, what about America's underlying love affair with violence in general? How can we speak only of too many guns and a lack of intervention for disturbed youth and at the same time ignore entirely a national and indeed a worldwide obsession with and acceptance of violence?

During the last ten years, the number of children suffering from gun wounds in the U.S. has risen by 300 percent. According to statistics released by the Children's Defense Fund this week, eleven American children under age twenty are murdered each day, and 237 under age eighteen are arrested each day for a violent crime. Guns do kill, regardless of the shallow NRA argument to the contrary. But guns alone do not propagate a violent culture.

Violence breeds in the home first. Every year in this country, 5,000 children die at the hands of their parents and/or guardians. Five thousand children killed. Hundreds of thousands more are injured, and countless numbers are witness to other forms of violence in the home, such as spousal battering. If we are to consider verbal and emotional violence, and we should, those numbers become almost too large to contemplate. As that wise father called for on Talk of the Nation (while his infant son cooed in the background), we must adopt a zero-tolerance policy against violence itself, in all its forms. Period.

As long as we embrace violence as a form of entertainment, a means to problem-solving, and, indeed, an acceptable way of disciplining our children, we hold ourselves at an arm's length from lasting solutions to the escalating youth violence that permeates our society. Does anyone really question that an increasingly and shockingly violent media contributes to a continued desensitization to and participation in violent behavior? Does anyone really question that a massive availability of easily attainable guns contributes to a grotesquely high level of gun violence? Isn't it time to stop pretending there exists a legitimate debate on these issues and intead take some action?

About the media, it works like this. Media exists because people pay for it. The people who pay for it are, by and large, not the viewers, but the advertisers. Stop supporting, through your viewership, material which is inappropriate for human consumption, and advertisers will no longer sponsor those programs. It's that simple. And monitor your children's media consumption diligently. Children should not be brought up on violent TV and movies, and they shouldn't be brought up on violent video games (the likes of which are eerily similar to the electronic training exercises employed by the military to help enlisted men overcome the inherent human resistance to killing fellow humans). If power struggles over restrictions on TV and video games are a problem at your house, why not throw out the TV instead of fighting about it? There is nothing so wonderful and enriching and educational about television that you cannot replace it with other, more wonderful, enriching, and educational activities. (Trust me on that one. I'd be glad to supply pointers on a TV-free lifestyle.)

As far as guns go, well, think a second: in all seven recent instances of these terroristic assaults at school, the mode of attack has been gunfire. These troubled children are not coming into school with sticks and stones and baseball bats. They are choosing guns because guns are fast and impersonal and do their fatal damage from a distance. That is why the overall homicide rate in the U.S. so dramatically outpaces that of other industrialized nations--nations with the common sense to restrict access to handguns. Guns kill all too easily. We must acknowledge the need for meaningful gun control.

Finally, we must turn our backs on violence as a condoned method of problem-solving in human relationships, beginning at home. Spanking, slapping, and shoving should not be considered viable options for disciplining a child. Nor should violence be looked upon as an inevitable occurence between domestic partners. However, since we have rather complacently sat by as our nation has reached unfathomable heights in its levels of violence in all spheres, we're going to have to work really hard to make any headway toward change. It's going to require support across the spectrum if we hope to learn to reject violence (which is why, incidentally, it is so demoralizing that during our recent Parent Panel with the governor, parental concerns about violence in schools were essentially dismissed with the governor's anecdote about the "good old days" at Sanford Middle School, where the gym teacher meted out paddlings for bad behavior).

Clearly, the work is cut out for all of us. But what would you rather do--work hard now, or continue to sit idly by as each generation of children grows into a cohort exponentially more violent than the one before it?

Every respected criminologist in recent years has heralded a serious warning about the frighteningly fast rise of violent criminal behavior among youths. The most recent Journal of the American Medical Association's Report Card on Violence (http://www.ama-assn.org/sci-pubs/ journals/archive/jama/vol_280/no_5/toc.htm#top) is only one comprehensive resource on this topic--any library or Internet search engine can connect you to the plethora of data behind this horrifying phenomenon if you wish to learn more. Then, once you know the facts, please, take a moment each day to reflect on your role as a parent and a citizen in the creation of a more peaceful culture.

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