Wednesday, April 11 2001, 10:47 AM
The designated national menace is now the weirdo whiteboy. The day after Santee, California's, school shooting, Superintendent Granger Ward suspended shooter Andy Williams' friends "in the best interest of their safety." They were suspended because they allegedly heard the shooter's vague threats but failed to notify authorities. But guaranteeing geek/nerd/outcast safety has never really been an administrative priority. What the supe, press, and quotable experts were after was fixing blame: reject kids caused the body count.
The Secret Service profiled the armed and alienated; and officials urged "normal" students (including bullies and taunters, not suspended) to turn them in. Psychologist and press "boy violence" darling James Garbarino declared: "We have twice as many kids who are seriously troubled as we did 25, 30 years ago and those kids have access to a wide range of dark images, on the Internet, through the videos, video games. All that is a very dangerous combination which we are seeing week after week...the dark side of adolescent culture coming about." He might as well blame conventional Boy scouts, church choir, PG-rated "Patton," Shakespeare, or Prozac, all variously patronized by school gunboys. Authorities' post-shooting attitude, like their pre-shooting attitude, explained volumes about why reject kids don't trust authority, certainly not enough to rat on friends.
Or, according to logic preferred by many luminaries, ALL modern adolescents are violent alienated weirdoes and therefore to blame. "This isn't the first generation that has been bullied, taunted, and tormented, but this is the first that has resorted to mass homicide as a response," declared the Josephson Institute on Ethics chief Michael Josephson (whose idea of ethics is to stamp all youths as "serial liars" and "a hole in the moral ozone"). "Kids today shoot people when they're angry and think nothing of it," railed Judge Judy (whose idea of humanitarianism is to kill heroin users). Self-flattering generationalist drivel. Numerous school shootings occurred in the 1980s and 1970s. Two gradeschoolers were murdered and nine wounded by a 16 year-old girl in 1979, seven Fullerton, California, university students slain by a student gunman in 1976, and a 1974 barrage by a rural New York honor student left three dead, nine wounded. Further back in time, records get too vague to assess. No matter. "Teenagers today should have no rights at all," fumed Naderite and self-styled "politically incorrect" Bill Maher (whose idea of adulthood is to berate the mere existence of kids for interfering with adult pleasures).
The rabid response to school shootings, the reflexive blaming of powerless scapegoats, reveals why America remains a worldwide disgrace for gun violence, homicide, drug abuse, drunkenness, violent crime, unplanned pregnancy, and millions of middle-aged adults less maturely behaved than Swedish 12 year-olds. Other countries, for all their ancient squabbles, manage to muddle together to fix the big problems, as the sweeping British ban on handguns after a man shot up a school or tough European standards against drunken driving illustrate. Americans can't do it, even in the face of the hideous commonality of what other cultures would call calamity.
A New York Times survey last year found that a mass, public "rampage shooting" (mostly perpetrated by middle-aged, middle-class, white adults) takes place in the U.S. every 11 days, on average. Private gunplay (mostly by poorer whites, Latinos, and African Americans) is more common, though individual body counts are lower. In the last two years, dozens of gun-wielding 30-60-age males went berserk in homes, offices, churches, grocery stores, community centers, industrial workplaces, even the national and California capitols: Office massacres claimed 12 in Atlanta, three in Alabama, seven in Honolulu, four in Seattle, eight in Tampa, and three in Santa Cruz. Enraged middle-agers gunned down four teens and three adults in a Fort Worth church, six in a Mormon library, and three teens and a Bible teacher in Ohio. Failed romances prompted midlife men to massacre and maim six in Michigan, four in Baltimore, four in Memphis, six in Sacramento, seven in another Atlanta shooting, four in Santa Cruz (see below), and five toddlers at a California preschool. At least 25 are believed slain by a Texas serial killer; a Seattle national guard pilot admitted murdering a dozen prostitutes; senior-citizen rampages in Michigan and Arizona condominiums left eight dead and wounded; a furious 40-ager fierily crashed his speeding semi-truck into the back of the California capitol building, miraculously dispatching only himself. Firemen, truckers, country musicians, white-collared businessmen, the squarest of the square, put the pedal to the metal or opened fire, slaughtering as long as victims remained in sight.
Amid the national panic over school violence in March 2001, an enraged father in the affluent Santa Cruz suburb of Soquel gunned down his wife, two young sons, and himself. That one shooting in one suburban house on one day claimed more lives than all school gunfire nationwide in the entire month. Nor was this unusual; 40 times more children and youths are murdered by parents every year than in even the worst year for school homicide (1992-93), and 100 times more than in the most recent school year (2000-01). That these day-to-day middle-American massacres in virtually every adult institution bring little press and zero political deploring of our "culture of "violence" leaves little justification for the trembling moral outrage that the schools serving 50 million Americans daily also are not immune. In bitter truth, it would be astounding if shootings never took place in American schools; the mystery is that they're so few.
All told, 1,000 Americans are murdered by gunfire every month. Of these, one to two, on average, die in or around a school. In the nation's premier Gundown State, 4,000 Californians were murdered by guns in the last three years -- just seven of whom died in its five-million-student schools. California and American schools are safer from homicide than the aforementioned Sweden. But these aren't perspectives that U.S. institutions, interests, leaders, or media care about. As long as the only murdered kids and American gun killings generating outrage are those useful to elite agendas, we'll continue to have lots of both.
Mike Males, Justice Policy Institute senior researcher and University of California-Santa Cruz sociology lecturer, recently finished the book Kids & Guns: How Politicians, Experts, and the Press Fabricate Fear of Youth.