lives would probably be regarded as micromanaging to the point of infantalization. It seems clear that the Carneals were trying to give their son some space to grow up. At the same time, Carneal himself was deliberately evasive and concealing in ways that were obviously effective. He did manage to hide from his family his own growing mental illness and his plans for violence. Despite his parents’ involvement in activities at school, in church, and with friends, he made sure that they knew as little as possible about the things he did that had the potential to get him into serious trouble.
Some have suggested that the gun culture of the South has played a role in some of the school shootings. This theory hypothesizes that guns and violence are culturally acceptable means of resolving disputes and solving problems in this part of the country and that norms about family honor and masculinity demand retribution for insults. As episodes of lethal school violence have spread to the Western and Northern states, this theory has waned somewhat in popularity. However, it should be examined in the context of this example.
Although Carneal saw bringing a gun to school as a way of getting attention from his peers, we did not find evidence of a prominent role for guns in the local culture of the adult community or in the mainstream adolescent culture of the school. Hunting has declined considerably in Paducah and McCracken County as the area has urbanized, and many students we talked to had never held a gun. The older generation of adults, in contrast, spoke of storing their guns in their trucks during the school day in their youth so they could go hunting after school. One man described showing off his gun to other students in shop class when he was in high school 20 years ago. In contrast, our respondents said that, even before the shooting, weapons could not be publicly displayed in school, would be confiscated if found, and might even result in criminal penalties. Carneal’s family did not hunt and his sister did not even know that the family owned any firearms, although Carneal did first learn to shoot a gun at a 4-H summer camp.
However, the availability of guns should be considered a contributing factor in this case. First, a young person in this community who wants a gun can get one. Almost all of the students we interviewed said it would be easy for them to get a gun if they wanted one because either a family member or a friend owned a gun to which they could gain access. Most parents concurred. Over a period of less than two months, Michael Carneal amassed an arsenal of nine weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition by stealing them from his father and a neighbor. Second, the