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May 1, 1999
Column #922

LESSONS FROM LITTLETON

     How could so many adults around the Littleton killers ignore so many red flags?

     Eric Harris had a sawed-off barrel of a shotgun on his dresser and bomb-making materials in plain sight.  Why didn't his parents ask hard questions that could have averted the tragedy?

      Harris and Dylan Klebold had made a video of themselves killing athletes for a government class. Why wasn't the teacher alarmed?

     The parents of a boy threatened by Harris contacted police eight times to report the threats, such as a computer game Harris created that revolved around destroying their house.  On his website, Harris included instructions on how to make pipe bombs. Though Harris was on probation, no further investigation was made.   Such neglect seems criminal.

     More alarming, a Washington Post poll reports that a fifth of high school students know someone who has brought a gun to school; a third have heard students threaten to kill others and 40 percent can think of students in their schools who are troubled enough to be potential killers.

     Therefore, President Clinton proposed several gun control laws that deserve support:

     1. Raise the minimum age for possessing handguns and semi-automatic assault rifles to 21.  The 18-year-old girl friend of Klebold bought a TEC DC-9 assault pistol that can fire 32 rounds in ten seconds and a rifle at a recent gun show that were used in the Littleton massacre.

     2. Require background checks on people buying weapons at gun shows or explosives.

     3. Limit the number of handguns that can be purchased to one per month.  When Virginia passed such a law, the number of Virginia guns used in New York crimes fell by more than half.

     4. Restore a waiting period before the purchase of a pistol, a Brady law that expired.

     5. A Child Access Prevention (CAP) law would hold a gun owner responsible for any crimes committed with his guns by a child.  Since 16 states passed CAP laws, accidental deaths dropped an average of 23 percent, says Handgun Control. Guns kill 13 children every day.

     6. Require new guns to have a safety lock with a combination known only to the owner. As a 9-year-old, I remember opening my father's sock drawer, where he kept his pistol.  He once showed me how to take out the clip, which I did, thinking that removed its bullets. I put the gun into my mouth, then took it out and pulled the trigger. BLAM! I shot a bullet into the drawer.

     These laws would reduce deaths of young people.  But far more profound changes are needed.  Most important, parents need to spend more time with their kids. 

     I know a young woman who dressed in Gothic black in high school because she rejected the materialism of other kids and the culture. She also felt neglected by her parents. Though other kids mocked her, she felt she had to express the pain that was inside.  And the clothes formed a bond with other outcasts who hung together. They hated the athletes and the Christians. But she was not violent and not a Satan worshiper.

     A question for Christian kids:  Why not reach out and befriend someone who dresses differently?  Wouldn't that demonstrate the love of the Lord that you feel? 

     A week before the Littleton tragedy, Virginia's Attorney General Mark Earley gathered 300 religious leaders in a Faith Summit to consider mentoring young children as an answer for school violence. He noted that he visited every juvenile detention center and met one-on-one with 35 kids imprisoned for violent crime.   ''With the exception of one person, all of them came from homes in which a father was not meaningfully present.''

     Though he is a father of six children, aged 2-16, Earley decided to become a ''Lunch Buddy'' to a 4th grade boy, who is at risk.  He eats with him only once a month. The first time they met, the little guy said, ''I'm so glad I have a lunch buddy.''

     Another speaker was Virgil Gulker, who has created a church mentoring program called Kids Hope that has matched up volunteers who pledge to meet with one child once a week for one year. He noted that suicide among children aged 14 and under is up 75 percent. Why? ''Kids are giving up finding that person who will value them.

     ''Don't tell me Jesus loves these children. So what? Jesus does not have arms to hug them. He can't say their names. He can't read to them. He can't laugh with them. We can.''

     To learn more, call Kids Hope 616 846-7490.

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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