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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
Other measures considered or used in the cases seem more suspect. Putting up fences or other measures designed to prevent outsiders from threatening the schools was not productive, because in all of the cases in which this was done, the threat came from inside the school, from members of the school community. The fact that the fences would not have been successful in preventing the incidents that occasioned their construction reveals the fundamentally irrational nature of this enterprise.
Increasing Weapons Security to Keep Guns from Youth
We cannot conclude this report without briefly discussing the issue of youth access to guns. All instances of lethal violence documented in the cases were committed by youth armed with rifles and handguns who were breaking current gun laws in addition to substantive criminal laws. Both state and federal laws prohibit children of this age from possessing or carrying guns without adult supervision, and many federal and state statutes are designed to prevent children from being able to acquire weapons. This includes bans against selling to minors. It is also true that even the most fervent champions of the rights of citizens to own guns have stood for keeping them away from unsupervised children. Nevertheless, research has found that more than half of privately owned firearms are insecurely stored (National Institute of Justice, 1997). Insecure storage of firearms was clearly a factor in four of these six cases.
Despite all of this effort to keep guns from children, the committee was somewhat astounded at the ease with which the young people in these cases acquired the weapons they used. Only in the Jonesboro case were the most powerful weapons in the home of one of the boys too well secured for them to access. But it was easy to defeat the security measures of another relative and get hold of a powerful semiautomatic rifle with a scope. In general, it was easy for these young teens to circumvent both law and informal controls designed to deny them the weapons they used in their crimes.
The committee notes that, in the Edinboro case, a gun was used by a citizen to end the rampage incident and prevent the shooter from harming additional victims or himself. This also happened in the rampage shooting in Pearl, Mississippi, in 1997.
In the committee’s view, there is much useful work to be done through both law and custom to deny guns to children. Recognizing the fact that both law and community sentiment are against unsupervised children possessing and using guns, the committee believes that denying access to unsupervised youth should continue to be an important national goal.