Submitted for your consideration, one day's worth of articles in USA Today, March 25, 1998:
Two boys in Arkansas, age 11 and 13, embark on a shooting spree at their school, killing five and injuring eleven.
A high school student in Texas slashed three teachers with a razor blade.
A 14 year-old in California shot at his Principal.
We read the stories with the normal "tisk-tisk"; we empathize with the families of the fallen and with the parents of the children gone astray; we attribute the unfortunate occurrences to "copy-cat crimes", to which impressionable children are particularly vulnerable, as is the case in teen suicide. And the first questions that typically arise are: Will they be held accountable for their actions? Does the state in which this occurred allow minors to be charged as adults? Did they understand the consequences of their actions? Do they deserve the death penalty?
We forget to ask: How did we create a society in which children obtain weapons to attack and/or kill other children and adults? How did we create a society in which such violence is the means to resolve a dispute?
When you were 11, or 13, or 18, did you hear of these types of crimes? Did you fear going to school because a classmate might shoot you? Did you have to pass through a metal-detector before going to homeroom?
In the meantime, the number of such incidents mounts and we have become numb. We focus on the punishment for the perpetrators, we focus on the psychological profile of the children, and we blame the entertainment industry--movies, video games, etc. that sterilize violence and death. And we insist on our right to own guns, citing and distorting the meaning of clearly crafted words that were written in 1791 in a totally different context (a well-regulated militia...).
There appears to be a fine line between good judgment and hypocrisy. Clearly, there are many activities accepted by society as appropriate or discretionary for adults, but not for children: drinking, smoking, sex. The age at which one can legally undertake these varies from state to state, as does voting and driving. But is there an age at which one is mature enough to carry a weapon? Is it any more rational for an adult to own a gun to protect against an intruder than it is for a teen-ager to carry a weapon to defend against enemies at school? Do you remember how threatening adolescence was? Are you really as uncomfortable in your own home?
In the end, our society makes available the temptations. Yet we expect of our citizens, who are passing through a developmental phase of invincibility, to refrain from wrongdoing because of the threat of capital punishment.
It just doesn't make sense.