Ken McElroy Online

Violence is Violence

Ken McElroy
March 10, 2001

Lest we forget, there wasn't just one incident of school violence in the past two weeks. The story of Charles Andrew Williams, the 15-year-old high school freshman who killed two of his classmates and injured thirteen others in Santee, California is all over the national news. It's on the front page of every major newspaper in the country. There's ongoing analysis on every cable news channel, with panels of experts brought in to tell us what it all means, and what needs to be done to prevent it from happening again.

In contrast, the story of David Attias, an 18-year-old student at UC Santa Barbara, has not received anything like the national saturation coverage of the Santee shooting. It was widely reported in Southern California for a day or two after the incident, and there have been brief mentions in national newspapers, but the story quickly faded. Attias drove his car into a crowd of students in the community of Isla Vista, near Santa Barbara, California on February 23rd, killing four people and critically injuring one other student. So what is the difference?

In each case, you had an angry, disaffected youth who decided to randomly kill some of his classmates. The only difference is the choice of weapon. When the weapon used is a gun, we focus on the weapon. When the weapon is a car, we focus on the perpetrator, or we lose interest.

But the incident in Santee wasn't a gun problem any more than the incident in Isla Vista was a highway safety issue. And the solution in Santee isn't gun control any more than the solution in Isla Vista is automobile control. The root issue is violence, regardless of the weapon used, and why some kids feel that random violence is the answer to whatever's bothering them. Four people run over and killed by a car are just as dead as two people shot with a pistol.

The discussion always seems to turn to gun control though. The incident in Isla Vista doesn't fit neatly into that agenda, so forget it and move on. After the shootings in Santee, the focus on the gun hasn't been as complete as it has been in previous school shootings, but we have seen some of the typical knee-jerk calls for federal action and jabs at the NRA. Of course, this shooting spree happened in California, which has very strict gun controls and is the model for much of the gun control legislation proposed at the federal level.

The television program Dateline on NBC recently did a story about gun violence in America. They detailed 35 cases of injuries or deaths due to firearms that occurred in a single week. The cases included intentional shootings, accidents, and suicides.

If we were discussing vehicle related injuries and deaths, we wouldn't talk about drunk driving and accidents due to tire failure as if they were the same problem. Those are completely different problems, with completely different solutions. In the same way, broadly speaking about "gun violence" as if we're talking about one problem is ridiculous. In fact, focusing on "gun violence" diverts attention from the real issue, which is violence by any means.

Twenty years ago, millions of people had guns, and there were fewer gun control laws than there are today. But kids didn't take those guns to school and shoot their classmates at random. Obviously it's the kids that have changed, not the guns.

But it's far easier to blame the gun, pass another law and say we did something than to change the culture and teach kids right and wrong. So we'll pass another law, and then we can all wait for the next kid to go off, whatever weapon he chooses.