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As ‘culture of violence’ spreads, debate over kids & guns conti

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Americans were stunned in the past year as a creeping “culture of violence” ravaged a host of schoolyards. And experts warn an even greater plague is growing in the heart of a generation infected by a “virus of violence.”
With the incidence of crime and violence declining only slightly in the country, Ron Stephens, head of the National School Safety Center, warned Congress last April “the severity of those incidents continues to escalate.”
He attributed the escalation to an increase in firepower and to youth who are more volatile than in the past. “We’re talking not about fistfights with a few bruises, but body counts,” he said, adding kids today are often “more callous, less remorseful and have a lot of anger inside.”
The shots that rang out in schools, while symptomatic of a larger problem, do not portend schoolyards becoming killing fields, according to the Justice Policy Institute.
“There is a big problem of kids being killed in America,” Vincent Schiraldi, director of the institute, told Associated Press. The criminal justice research group advocates increasing youth crime prevention rather than punishment. “If politicians spend all of the next year trying to come up with a solution for the ‘school killing’ problem, they could miss the real problem,” he continued, saying everyday gun violence outside of school is a much bigger threat to children.
Noting many of the shootings were at rural schools where such violence is rare, Schiraldi said, “That made it more of a man-bites-dog-type news hook … as opposed to [more common shootings among] urban kids, kids of color.”
Firearm-related homicide is a particularly serious problem among urban African American adolescents and is typically not a serious problem among predominantly white families in the suburbs.
In the eight years prior to 1993, the rate of firearm homicide among white adolescents more than doubled, up to 10 per 100,000, while the rate among African American adolescents more than tripled to 131.5 per 100,000, reports the National Center for Health Statistics.
More U.S. teenagers die from gunshot wounds than all natural causes combined, and firearm-related mortality accounts for almost half of all deaths among African American teens, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The death rate for minority youth from gunfire is more than three times the rate of death from motor vehicle accidents.
Larry Bentz, principal of Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore., where a 15-year-old is charged with the deaths of two students and his parents, said on NBC’s “Today” show: “It’s not school violence; it’s community violence and the violence that teenagers face in the community during the entire day, not what happened in our school at that point in time.” Metal detectors and increased police presence are not the answer to stemming this tide of violence, he contended.
“I think the more fundamental problem that needs to be addressed in our society … is that of the entertainment industry’s obsession with violence,” Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R.-Ark., told The Washington Times.
The media needs to be focusing on “the sea of filth and violence that kids are exposed to,” Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R.-Md., concurred.
“Does anyone in their right mind still believe that it is possible to raise children in a society where guns are so easily obtained?” Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D.-Ill., countered, according to the Times.
Bartlett responded, “It’s silly to say the gun did it. The gun didn’t do it; the kid did it.”
Handgun Control, Inc., a group advocating gun control, says the school shootings press the problem again of “children having access to guns,” spokesperson Nancy Hwa said. “I’m sure [legislators] will try to blame Hollywood, but if children had not had access to guns … .”
A non-negotiable is the fact that killing is a learned skill, David Grossman, who spent the first three days after the shootings at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark., working with counselors, teachers, students and parents, writes in Christianity Today. “They [children] learn it from abuse and violence in the home and, most pervasively, from violence as entertainment in television, the movies and interactive video games.”
Indicative of the intensity of this cultural crisis is the jump in the aggravated assault rate — when people attempt to kill one another — from 60 per 100,000 in 1957 to over 440 per 100,000 in 1995, Grossman writes. The rate would be much higher, he adds in the CT article, if the imprisonment rate of violent offenders had not risen and if the nation had not seen a dramatic improvement in medical technology.
And this virus of violence is occurring worldwide, Grossman notes, adding the common variable between cultures is “media violence presented as entertainment for children.”
Acknowledging a glut of guns in the United States, Grossman explains levels of violence are rising in many nations even with very strict gun control measures.
Asserting contemporary culture is “breeding” killers among its children, Grossman, an expert on the psychology of killing formerly with the U.S. Army, says the culture is mimicking the military in breaking down inborn aversions to wanton violence and killing, indoctrinating children with a boot camp mentality of brutalization and desensitization with violence in the media.
“This brutalization is designed to break down your existing mores and norms and to accept a new set of values that embrace destruction, violence and death as a way of life,” Grossman writes, adding the process “desensitizes” individuals to accept violence “as a normal and essential survival skill.”
Grossman recounts the classic study on the TV’s impact published in Journal of the American Medical Association. After television is introduced to a region, “There is an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate,” he states, explaining the 15-year gap is merely the length of time it takes for media-brutalized toddlers to reach “prime crime age.”
Grossman reports the means to inoculate children are not as simple as “turning off” the TV. “We need to make progress in the fight against child abuse, racism and poverty, and in rebuilding our families,” he writes, but much effort needs to be centered on “taking on the producers and purveyors of media violence.” He calls for Christians to confront “the culture of violence as entertainment.”
Not surprisingly, researchers have discovered church involvement blunts violent urges, even among young people in the most violence-prone sectors of our society.
“Young black males in Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia — in the worst project that you can find in those areas — are significantly less likely to be in trouble if they go to church,” said Byron Johnson, a criminologist at Lamar University.
“People who have been oppressed and have been discriminated against, told that ‘you are of no value’ — eventually begin to believe that,” Gerald Austin, pastor of the New City Church in Birmingham, Ala., said on CBN.
Austin tells teenagers they have been created in the image of God: “You are someone that’s significant, and God loves you so much that he sent his son Jesus to die for you.”
Firearms are on track to become the leading cause of injury death by the year 2001, the CDC says. Children younger than 15 die of gunshot wounds at 12 times the rate of their peers in 25 other industrialized countries, including Israel and Northern Ireland. While killing by juveniles with guns quadrupled from 1984 to 1994, non-gun killing by youths remained the same. The point, Grossman contends, is that the entire increase in juvenile homicides in that decade were gun-related.
“The most important device with any gun is the brain of the person using it,” said Richard Feldman, executive director of the industry-financed American Shooting Sports Council. “If you shut your brain off, you’re in trouble.”
In USA Today, Michael Stephenson of the Detroit-based group, Stop Firearms Violence, disagreed, saying, “There’s one enemy, and that’s the gun, period.”
There is little hope for agreement between those advocating tighter gun control and those who zealously guard their right to bear arms. But what about a reasoned dialogue on kids and guns? Nearly one fourth of the people arrested for weapons offenses in 1993 were younger than age 18, reports the Justice Department.
“There are no ‘quick fixes’ to this surge of juvenile violence induced by ‘cultural demoralization,’” writes Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in his book “Kids Who Kill,” rejecting “bumper sticker rhetoric.” The key to the recovery of social harmony, he writes, is the “grassroots renewals of those things that originally made America great.”
Reprinted from Light magazine, a publication of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

    About the Author

  • Dwayne Hastings