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Conn. tragedy rejuvenates gun rights debate

December 18, 2012

By SID SALTER

The Connecticut school shooting tragedy will have a long and profound impact on the debate on Second Amendment rights in this nation. Certainly, with the killing of 26 innocent people, including 20 small children, such a debate is appropriate.

Unfortunately, the depth of grief and pain that the senseless slaughter of children engenders raises the gun rights debate to a level so shrill and polarized that real progress is difficult if not impossible. Any parents or grandparents who have confronted thoughts of “what had this been my children or grandchildren?” will be hard pressed to discuss a reasonable balance of important Second Amendment rights with the perceived need for increased school safety in the wake of such a stunning loss of life.

But the aching grief for these children — whose lives were stolen at Christmas, no less — makes the facts of such tragedies hard to bear. The facts are that most schools — from pre-K to universities — are safe. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that 83 percent of all public educational institutions report “no serious violent crime.”

The fact is that since 1997, National Weather Service statistics document that on average 54 people per year are killed by random lightning strikes. That’s a total of 918 victims between 1997 and 2012. Over the same period, press and law enforcement reports document that random school and university shootings have claimed a total of 172 victims between 1997 and 2012, including the Connecticut victims.

Not only are your children far more likely to be struck by lightning than to be injured or killed in school violence, but school violence resulting in homicides has declined rather steadily between 1993 and 2010, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics. The report found that school violence in the U.S. peaked in 1993, when there were 42 homicides by students in total and 13 “serious violent crimes” — rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault — per 1,000 students at primary and secondary schools. By 2010, the latest figures available, those numbers had decreased to two homicides and four violent crimes per 1,000 students.

It was back in 1997 when Pearl, Mississippi was the scene of a school shooting tragedy that began very much like the Connecticut event. Luke Woodham, then 16, shot and killed two students and wounded seven other after stabbing his mother to death in their home. Newtown, Conn. shooter Adam Lanza followed the same pattern Friday, but was armed with more sophisticated automatic weapons.

Gun rights advocates will point out that unlike Lanza in Connecticut, Woodham’s rampage was halted in Pearl when the shooter was confronted by a Pearl High vice principal, who had retrieved a Colt .45 pistol from his truck. The armed school official subdued Woodham until law enforcement arrived.

Gun control proponents have seized on the Connecticut tragedy as they seize on all mass shootings as political and moral justification for their beliefs. The proliferation of assault weapons remains a growing part of the gun rights debate about which public opinion is in a significant state of evolution.

But the notion that more gun restrictions would have protected the students in Newtown, Conn. from a young deranged gunman seems ludicrous on its face. Most school shooters share the traits of mental health problems, are or believe themselves to be the victims of bullying, have histories of psychotropic drug use, have anger issues, have been rejected or ignored by peers and the list of grievances real or perceived goes on.

The ease with which those individuals have access to guns is but one of several contributing factors to these senseless tragedies. Calls for gun restrictions are a knee-jerk reaction to a far more complex problem.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 662-325-3442 or ssalter@ur.msstate.edu.

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