Shots Heard Round...

THE late Richard Critchfield, scholar of village life on five continents, worried that mass migrations to cities were undermining generations of carefully built community morality.

The prototypical village might have its guilty secrets and confining rigidities. But people knew right from wrong. They knew and helped their neighbors. They hadn't lost their bearings in violence-wracked urban slums and shantytowns.

It's perhaps because of such deep, instinctual feeling for small-town regularity that thousands of people around the globe are still sending quiet messages of support and reassurance to the bereaved parents and shocked townfolk of Dunblane, Scotland. There, a week ago, regularity was shattered by a loner carrying four handguns, who massacred (that's the only word for it) 16 young children and their teacher and wounded another 14 at a school playground and gymnasium.

In a period when suicide bombers destroy buses, revenge-seekers truck-bomb skyscrapers, and a nihilist sect gases subways and plots nuclear armageddon, this deed was shocking because it attacked a haven of ordinariness. Evening news televiolence associated with Sarajevo or the South Bronx had incongruously invaded a bucolic scene where generations of families stayed put, where nearly everyone was a parent, aunt, uncle, or neighbor to the innocently whooping toddlers and children at play.

Words, flowers, and a queenly visit have certainly helped Dunblane's citizens realize they are not bereft in an uncaring world. But there are obviously wider lessons to be learned. George Orwell once saluted a Britain whose "gentleness" you notice instantly because "the bus conductors are good tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers." That basic civility needn't be forfeited helplessly. There's no reason that a nation which has long cherished nonviolent behavior cannot rigorously tighten gun ownership en- forcement to avert future Dunblanes.

Citizens in such notably nonviolent societies as Japan and Britain needn't fall prey to a Gresham's law in which video- and porn-mag-violence drive out standards of restraint. No law says they have to accede to a violent world. A more basic law favors peace.

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