A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, February 15, 2008

One week in February: Another cataclysm of gun violence in American schools

This may have been one of the bloodiest weeks for violent incidents at schools within my memory. The sad litany:

February 7: A teacher is shot and stabbed by her estranged husband in an Ohio elementary school classroom.
The man who allegedly shot and stabbed his teacher wife at a Catholic elementary school in front of her students Thursday is dead of what police believe is a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Portsmouth, Ohio, Police Chief Charles Horner said.

The man, whom the chief identified as William Michael Layne, barricaded himself in his home after apparently going to Notre Dame Elementary School in the morning and shooting and stabbing his wife, fith-grade teacher Christy Layne, authorities said.

February 8: A female student at Louisiana Technical College kills two other students and then herself.
A female student shot and killed two classmates and then herself this morning in a classroom at Louisiana Technical College’s Baton Rouge campus, United Press International reported.

Police officers responding to a 911 call around 8:30 a.m. found the three already dead. Twenty other people were in the classroom at the time, the police said. The women’s identities have not been released, but the shooter was 23 years old, while the victims were 21 and 26.

February 11: In Memphis, the second shooting in EIGHT DAYS:
Memphis City Schools administrators and board members pleaded for the community's help in curbing school violence in the wake of the second school shooting in eight days.

A Mitchell High School student was in critical condition Monday night after he was shot multiple times during a gym class in the cafeteria at 9 a.m.

Police arrested a Mitchell student who gave a pistol to teacher and coach Darryl Montgomery right after the shooting, saying, "It's over now."

"We have to answer: 'Why are our kids so angry?' " said Memphis Board of Education president Tomeka Hart. "It's going to take a total community effort."

Board members met Monday night, and after a moment of silence they took up their scheduled business, the new budget.

Corneilous Cheers, 17, a sophomore at the Southwest Memphis school, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, reckless endangerment, unlawful carrying or possession of a weapon and carrying a weapon on school property.

On February 14, Valentine's Day, we have TWO deadly incidents: First, In California, one middle school student shoots another student in what may be a hate crime:
Ventura County prosecutors charged a 14-year-old boy with the shooting death of a classmate Thursday and said the killing in an Oxnard classroom was a premeditated hate crime.

Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox declined to discuss a motive in the shooting or why prosecutors added the special allegation of a hate crime against Brandon McInerney, who was charged as an adult.

But classmates of the slain boy, Lawrence King, said he recently had started to wear makeup and jewelry and had proclaimed himself gay. Several students said King and a group of boys, including the defendant, had a verbal confrontation concerning King's sexual orientation a day before the killing.

Then, the same day, at Northern Illinois University, a former student opened fire on a geography class and killed 5 others before killing himself.
If there is such a thing as a profile of a mass murderer, Steven Kazmierczak didn't fit it: outstanding student, engaging, polite and industrious, with what looked like a bright future in the criminal justice field.

And yet on Thursday, the 27-year-old Kazmierczak, armed with three handguns and a brand-new pump-action shotgun he had carried onto campus in a guitar case, stepped from behind a screen on the stage of a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University and opened fire on a geology class. He killed five students before committing suicide.

University Police Chief Donald Grady said, without giving details, that Kazmierczak had become erratic in the past two weeks after he had stopped taking his medication. But that seemed to come as news to many of those who knew him, and the attack itself was positively baffling.

Why are guns so readily available for those who are unstable? And more important, why don't we have the will to declare an end to the madness?



At 2/16/08, 6:17 AM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

It seems to me, Ms. C., that we're all asking a lot of questions, but no one has any answers.

It makes me very unpopular (believe me; I know. I've tried to have this conversation on my own blog), but I think that we've got to START with the guns. The NRA says that "guns don't kill people; people kill people" and, yes, stricter gun controls might not have saved the elementary school teacher from her crazed husband with a knife, but FAR fewer people would have died last week had the nutjobs not had easy access to firearms. Second Amendment or not, we need to get a handle on the guns.

Once that's done, we need to start TEACHING. I have a deep suspicion that a lot of this is coming from the fact that we lack a foundation in character education, both at home and at schools. We've become so hands-off in teaching for character - integrity, honesty, tolerance, debate and conflict resolution - in favor of teaching to the damned tests that many (most?) of us lack a strong moral compass.

It saddens and frightens me, all of it.

At 2/16/08, 8:34 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2/16/08, 8:34 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I wonder how many of these shooters bought the guns right before the attacks? Why are people in the heat of passion legally able to get their hands on guns?

And there is definitely a dearth of character education in our society. But schools cannot be given sole responsibility for this monumental task.

At 2/16/08, 12:50 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

Oh, absolutely not, Ms. C.; I COMPLETELY agree with you. It MUST begin at home and it MUST be consistently reinforced at home. I'm shocked and horrified by how fall-down grateful my daughters' teachers are when they figure out what kind of parents we are - we're decidedly in the minority.

I DO think that something that the schools can do is work with more discipline. We should also be able to grow a backbone where parents are concerned. I shudder at the stories my h.s. teacher friends tell me about administrators being cowed by parents who insist that their child walks on water and couldn't POSSIBLY have been responsible for this or that transgression, and that his or her failing grades aren't a consequence of the child's laziness or lack of work ethic, but rather the fault of a lousy teacher...

At 2/17/08, 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this will make me rather unpopular, but until guns are more common we will have such incidents happen on a regular basis.

The guy at NIU had a chance to stop and reload, according to one article I read. If one of those students had been armed, he would not have had the chance. The state of Illinois, however, does not allow for concealed carry, and NIU forbids guns on campus in the hands of any but the campus police. The result? A room full of victims unable to take any effective action against an assailant who didn't care that the campus was a gun-free zone. The madness that happened at NIU was not the availability of guns -- it was the willingness of those on the campus to be rendered defenseless by the campus authorities after Virginia tech.

Now I agree with everything that has been said here about character education -- but it appears that everyone in that room had already absorbed enough of such training that they were not packing heat in class.

At 2/18/08, 11:21 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

People who are on medication for emotional or psychological disorders or who have had mental problems should not be allowed to own guns. People who have been convicted of domestic violence should not be allowed to own guns.

Mitchell Johnson, one of the Jonesboro shooters, should not be able to own guns. Ever.

We need NO guns in the hands of these crazies.

At 2/19/08, 6:48 PM, Blogger W.R. Chandler said...

I keep hearing this notion about "easy access to firearms". Does anyone realize how easy it was to access a firearm before about 40 years ago?

My father, who grew up in Oklahoma from the time he was born in 1941 until 1951 remembers being in a local hardware store where there was a big barrel of .45 caliber pistols for sale that had been surplus from WWII. No background check, no nothing - you just grabbed a pistol from the barrel and paid for it at the front counter.

What has changed since those days is not that guns have become more accessible - they haven't - it is a shift in the culture of our country where life is not valued, and where psychotropic drugs have flooded the market place and our brains. Start researching the shooters in these cases of mass shootings/killings, and you will find that almost all of them were either on medication or had just come off of it; and by medication, I'm talking drugs like Prozac, Luvox, Ritalin, etc.

Taking guns away from law-abiding citizens will do nothing to fix this problem except to make law-abiding citizens easier targets from these murderous psychos who are trying to take us with them before they off themselves.

At 2/22/08, 4:15 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Actually, a lot of these murderous psychos were completely law-abiding citizens-- until they snapped and decided to go out and kill people. And sure, they could use a car or a machete or something else. but guns make it ever so much easier.

I don't think anyone who's been committed to a mental institution or who has committed acts of violence should be allowed to own a gun. The guy at NIU had been committed to a psych ward for months as a teenager and been discharged from the military for psychological problems, if I remember correctly.

And throwing more guns out there just scares me, GIVEN the millions of people on Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Xanax, Cymbalta, Prozac, Lexapro, Celexa, Seroquel, Zyprexa, Lithium, and handsfull of other psychiatric meds. who may be completely "law-abiding" but shouldn't be near anything more deadly than a butter knife.

But you are absolutely correct about life not being valued and thinking that a pill can solve everything. I just don't think having more guns out there would improve the value people place on life.

How many school shootings do we hear about in countries that place limitations on gun ownership? And how many gun owners belong to "a well-regulated militia?" (And I'm not talking about the Michigan Militia, here.)


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