It's Not the Gun; It's the Psychosis

Stephanie By Stephanie Herman
Rightgrrl Co-Founder
April 29, 1999
Carolyn and I visited the massive memorials at Columbine High School on Saturday, April 24. While there, we watched high school students holding hands in a large circle, singing "Amazing Grace" with small, birdlike voices. We saw a pickup truck and a red sedan parked in the school lot for the last time by victims of Tuesday's violence - vehicles draped with wilted flowers, hand-written poems, and disturbingly innocent teddy bears. We saw the dull and tired eyes of this community as they read the bleeding ink of painted banners, their slightly shaking hands as respects were paid to tangible artifacts of emotion stuck into Columbine's chainlink fence.

The school campus was and continues to be flooded with mourners and supporters. But what might otherwise look like a large carnival is, in reality, oppressively hushed - despite the media, despite the young children, despite the cars spitting by on rain-soaked streets.

The memorials have a profound effect on everyone who views them, but even the mere knowledge of what occurred at Columbine appears to have a universal numbing and sickening effect. Karen Kataline, the founder of and a social worker by vocation, has been manning grief lines in Denver as a volunteer counselor. She describes phone calls from men and women who knew no one involved, but who now find themselves unable to focus at work, unable to function normally, unable to stop crying, and wondering if this is normal.

It is normal, and will dictate Littleton's normalcy for some time.

But as I continue to watch Littleton grieve, I'm reminded that Hillary Clinton's pseudo-aphorism - "it takes a village" - contains at least a kernel of truth. It does take a village to come together after a tragedy; to re-establish a sense of community in which you feel joined in your grief; to be shown that your community recognizes your loss, and likewise to show your recognition of a neighbor's loss. The fact that a crowd of 70,000 joined together at Sunday's memorial must have been a small comfort for the families of victims.

But the overall message contained in the title of Mrs. Clinton's book, It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, can also be terribly disingenuous. Was it, after all, the job of the village to prevent the rampage of Harris and Klebold?

No; such would be an impossible mandate. Certainly, if neighbors or teachers had recognized the warning signs and had taken them seriously, the disaster on Tuesday might have been averted. Yet, even if they had, Littleton would still be home to two very troubled and demented young men.

Ultimately it was the parents of Harris and Klebold who had the only clear access into their troubled lives. It was the parents who had the best chance of making contact and the most immediate motivation to intrude into their children's pain. And yet, how many parents are content to assume that if they miss something in their children's lives, that the "village" will pick up the slack?

How many parents abdicate the orchestration and management of their children's well-being, believing that a basketball coach will instill the values of teamwork and camaraderie? That a math or English teacher will solve any learning deficiency? That a school counselor will recognize any symptoms of anti-social behavior? That the parents of friends will call if they witness drug use or vandalism?

That gun shop owners will refuse to sell the child a gun?

In this case, anyway, one gun shop owner in Colorado Springs did his part. Unfortunately, Harris and Klebold were not averse to obtaining their guns illegally.

Three things must be recognized here:

1) Gun laws are only obeyed by law-abiding citizens; as such, gun laws will not stop criminals, who (by definition) intend to do criminal harm.

2) A psychotic individual determined to do harm will find and use an infinite myriad of alternative weapons if guns are ever efficiently removed from our society - to continually attempt to eradicate the world of weapons is a futile endeavor.

3) Parents should not be raising psychotic children only to rely on the hope that these kids never gain access to a firearm; THE PROBLEM ISN'T THE GUN - IT'S THE PSYCHOSIS.

So how do we avoid raising psychotic children? I'm not entirely sure, but I have some ideas. My ideas may be naive or they may be novel, but I do know this: As a nation we must begin to discuss and debate our ideas on how to prevent an ensuing generation of psychotic children. Instead, we waste precious time trying to child-proof an inherently dangerous world, ignoring a disease that's consuming our children from the inside out.

And while we're all so incredibly busy this week debating the issue of gun control, our children watch another inane cartoon, play another violent video game, access another Nazi website, and again turn away from the busy lives of their oblivious parents.

Scholars decry more gun control

This article copyright © 1999 by Stephanie Herman and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.