Magazine article Insight on the News

Availability of Guns Is Not the Cause of Youth Violence

Magazine article Insight on the News

Availability of Guns Is Not the Cause of Youth Violence

Article excerpt

It takes a lot to shock today's jaded movie audiences, especially those attending a Hollywood preview. Yet, Mel Gibson's new movie about the Revolutionary War, The Patriot, drew loud "gasps" at a recent screening.

The outrageous scene? Gibson's character handing over guns to his 10-and 13-year-old sons to help fight off British soldiers. Few critics were soothed by the screenwriter replying that the scenes accurately portrayed the complexities of war or Gibson's assurance that he would let his own children use guns in self-defense.

With the Clinton administration blaming the recent outbreaks of school violence on the greater accessibility of guns, it hardly is surprising that some are shocked by children using guns. Many people, including presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore, support making it a crime for anyone under age 21 to possess a handgun.

Despite the political rhetoric, gun availability in the United States has never been as restricted as it is now. As late as 1968, it was possible for children to walk into a hardware store, virtually anywhere in the United States, and buy a rifle. Few states even had age restrictions for buying handguns. Buying a rifle through the mail was easy. Private transfers of guns to juveniles were unrestricted.

But nowhere were guns more common than at school. Until 1969, virtually every public high school in New York City had a shooting club. Highschool students carried their guns to school on the subways in the morning, turned them over to their homeroom teacher or the gym coach and retrieved them after school for target practice. Club members were given their rifles and ammunition by the federal government. Students regularly competed in citywide shooting contests for university scholarships.

Contrast that with what is happening today across the country: college and elementary students expelled from school for even accidentally bringing a water pistol, elementary-school students suspended for carrying a picture of a gun, kindergarten students suspended for playing "cops and robbers" and using their hands as guns and a school superintendent losing his job for even asking whether someone at a school should have a gun to protect the students.

Since the 1960s, the growth of federal gun control has been dramatic. Laws on gun control contained 19,907 words in 1960; by 1999 that figure had quadrupled to 88,413 words. For example, it was not a federal crime for those younger than 18 to possess a handgun until 1994. …

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