Spurred by America's worst school shootings ever, Congress is lashing out against a culture of guns and violence that many blame for encouraging mayhem by youths.
"We are absolutely in a culture war for the hearts and minds of our children," said Sen. Max Cleland (D) of Georgia in one of several crowded Capitol Hill hearings probing causes of youth violence this week.
Waving ultraviolent video games such as "Doom," reading death- laced lyrics from Marilyn Manson, and screening scenes of school- room killings from the movie "Basketball Diaries," lawmakers and experts denounced what Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut called "the culture of carnage surrounding our children." Yet parents might wonder, following the mass murder of 13 people by two students (who also killed themselves) at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., will Congress move beyond the hand-wringing and scolding? Many in Congress readily rule out any sweeping legislation to ban the popular tools or images of violence - or deny them to adults. The Constitution's first and second amendments, providing the rights of free speech and bearing arms, prohibit such actions, they say. "We all know that there is no effective legislation we could pass" that would comply with the First Amendment, says Sen. Slade Gorton (R) of Washington. It is "not realistic ... to eliminate all temptation," agreed Sen. John Breaux (D) of Louisiana. These and other lawmakers place the primary onus on parents to raise children with strong morals who can resist violent impulses. "It's not just video games," says Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona. "We are not parenting our children." Yet others in Congress are adamant that the government can do more to help parents shield their children in a society rife with guns and virtual-reality killing. "It is hard to be a good parent with all this coming at you every day," bemoaned Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) of North Dakota. "We must empower parents to make the right choices for their family." Such sentiment is growing in the wake of the Littleton, Colo., tragedy last month and a string of similar school-shooting incidents in the past year - "a recurring nightmare" for the country, said Senator Lieberman in testimony Tuesday before the Senate Commerce Committee. "People are angry enough here in Congress that they might consider something they didn't before," said Lieberman, a leading Senate voice on youth-violence issues, following the hearing. Next steps What concrete steps are likely to be taken by Congress? On gun control, advocates expect no major new legislation from a Republican-led Congress that in recent years has rejected bills to limit firearms and in 1996 voted (in the House) to repeal the assault weapons ban. …