• A violent culture
    February 04,2014

    So shocking was the shooting that snuffed out the lives of 20 elementary-school children and six adult educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012 that many — we would hope most — Americans surely believed the time had come, finally, to do something about gun violence in this country, especially in schools.

    Some steps have been taken, but the gun violence continues. A new Associated Press analysis shows that there have been at least 11 school shootings this academic year alone, not counting other cases of gun violence in parking lots and elsewhere on campus when classes were not in session.

    There have been about 500 school-associated violent deaths in the past two decades, according to Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center.

    These numbers don’t include recent incidents on American college and university campuses (not to mention gun violence in movie theaters and shopping malls). Last week, a man was shot and critically wounded at a community college in Florida and there were fatal shootings on campuses in South Carolina and Indiana.

    It’s almost as if the American public has come to expect to read about a shooting incident every week, if not every day, and many of them involve students in either public schools or on college campuses.

    Bill Bond was the principal at a Kentucky high school in 1997, when a 14-year-old freshman fired on a prayer group, killing three female students and wounding five. The one similarity between that shooting and more recent ones, he said, is that the shooters are males confronting hopelessness.

    “You see troubled young men who are desperate and they strike out and they don’t see that they have any hope,” Bond told The Associated Press.

    Jack Levin, co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston, agreed that most violent gun crimes are committed by young men. He described the gun violence a “masculine pursuit.”

    Levin also points out that the United States isn’t the only nation with a high rate of gun ownership. What’s different is that other countries with similar gun ownership rates have extremely low homicide rates.

    “Canada and Switzerland, for example, have high rates of gun ownership yet very low homicide rates,” he observed. “We also lead the industrialized world in the number of non-gun-related homicide deaths, so guns alone don’t explain the problem of violence in the United States.”

    Levin blames “a culture of violence, especially in rural Southern states, where even a challenge to one’s dignity or honor is enough to get you killed. It’s not only acceptable but it is socially approved to respond with a gun. This cultural factor goes back centuries to the days of the Wild West.”

    That culture leads to violence being seen as American as apple pie and Jesse James, he added.

    He may be right. But shouldn’t a safe educational environment for America’s school children be an “apple pie” virtue, too?

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week that schools are doing a “fantastic” job with school security. In fact, he said, often schools are the safest place in a community.

    However, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, wants more emphasis placed on improving school culture by providing resources for counselors, social workers and after-care programs. Many programs of that kind were scaled back during budget cuts of recent years.

    Congress recently voted to allocate $140 million to support safe-school environments, and that’s all to the good. But it will take more than money to change the culture Levin identified.

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