On his fiftieth anniversary with the Boy Scouts of America, he proudly showed me his 1946 Boy Scout Handbook. The well-thumbed pages of merit badges and camping lore preceded full-page advertisements in the back--advertisements that included Winchester rifles.
Rifles were part of my childhood and that of my friends. An open area in a near-by wooded city lot was littered with shards of empty bottles and punctured cans, the product of target practice with our .22s. Shooting within the city limits was probably illegal but, but when did illegality stand in the way of fun.
Availability of guns and ownership by youth were realities in the 1940's. There were other similarities between those war years and life today.
It was a time of very little parental presence. For five years my own father was overseas at war and my mother worked long hours in a defense plant making munitions. I, along with many others in our neighborhood, were "latch key children" (a descriptive phrase originating during World War II). It was also a time youth were immersed in violence--from deadly reminders by Gold Stars in neighbors' windows to the movies which portrayed dead soldiers' bodies strewn across the sands of beaches and the vicious cruelty of the "Japs and Huns." (Two violent images still reside in my memory from the movie honoring the fight-to-the-death defense of Wake Island.) Of a certainty, there were in-groups in school, and others of us were made to feel our out-group status. Also, never do I remember a prayer being said in school.
Yet that same mix of parental absence, violence and death in the media and society, lack of prayer in school, and availability of guns did not produce what we have today: youth deliberately shooting fellow students. Bottles and cans, yes; people, no. Why the targets have changed is something I don't fully understand.
Easy answers quickly tumble forth--blame parents, blame the availability of guns, blame violence in the media and video games, blame peer cruelty and blame the absence of God and morality from public education. In seeking reasons we ought not to take our eyes off the primary reason for the killings: the youth themselves. Whatever the causes, each is a calculating murderer.
Because all those factors were present in my childhood in the 1940s, I do not believe the above fully explain the school shootings, Still, I do believe that our society will be healthier when guns are not readily available to children and there is less violence in the media and video games. I believe that helping children to be less cruel to each other and stressing character education and morality in our schools (with or without God) is all to the good. However, to look on any of these as a quick fix is a serious mistake.
One note of hope is that we know, from an earlier very violent
time, students were not killing fellow students. Still, without
a quick fix and with diminished attention given to our children
and culture as time passes, it may be that-like sporadic clusters
of teen suicide- students shooting fellow students will continue
to be a rare but sporadic occurrence in our nation.
--Robert H. Tucker
14 June 1999