In the Wake of This Shooting

The latest school tragedy further deepens America's soul-searching over guns and youth. What should result, at the least, are laws mandating gun-safety measures.

Would such laws have kept the troubled six-year-old who shot and killed a classmate in Mount Morris Township, Mich., from getting his hands on a gun? Perhaps not. The boy's home life was chaotic. His father is in prison. The house where the boy lived with an uncle was dilapidated, with drugs and weapons lying around. The gun he found and sneaked into school had earlier been stolen.

The problems besetting this youngster's family can't be directly addressed through tougher gun laws. Social agencies and school officials will doubtless now try to be more alert to such situations. Neglect and manslaughter charges face the adults who were responsible for caring for the child.

The boy reportedly had no grasp of what he had done. His life, like that of other school shooters, appeared to lack moral moorings.

What improved gun laws can do is help create community and home environments where guns would have safety locks that make it impossible for children to fire them. This is a first step toward greater social sanity.

Common sense dictates that no gun should be sold without such devices. Congress, however, hasn't yet come to that realization. The gun-control legislation generated by last year's Littleton, Colo., shootings remains bogged down in conference committee - and in any case didn't include strong safety-lock provisions. The sad event in Michigan should break congressional inertia.

A national law requiring locks on new guns, public-safety campaigns to encourage their use on all guns, enforcement of existing state laws making gun owners liable if their weapons are accessible to children - all are practical steps.

Reasonable gun-control measures don't come easily in a country where gun ownership is defended with near-religious fervor. But the need for them has never been clearer.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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