Who will take responsibility for kids' guns?

Sunday, May 31, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Since last we spoke about massacres in schoolyards -- and it really hasn't been very long, has it? -- I have received hundreds of cards, letters and phone calls from those who fear that my heart is bleeding, drawing blood from my brain.

I have been told that the following are to blame for the children who have died, riddled by bullets in our schoolyards: movies, news media, immoral leaders, weak educators, working mothers, absent fathers.

I have been lectured about personal responsibility: "How can you blame guns? Those little thugs are to blame." In other words, guns don't kill people, people kill people. Interesting thought. I hadn't heard that one before. Does that sound sarcastic? Gee, I hope so.

There are too many guns in this country. They are ending up in the wrong hands. And it's time for people who are not deeply, madly, blindly in love with guns to say so. Even impolitely. The gun nuts aren't worried about anybody's feelings.

The art of firearms

Right now, the law is on their side. We regulate tobacco and alcohol more fiercely than we do weapons that can blow us to smithereens.

"What about cars?" one man wrote. "Would you ban automobiles just because somebody might get hit by one?" Well, no, but I would ask that we not teach children to operate them. And put in place as many safety devices as possible. Seat belts didn't end civilization as we know it.

Another man offered to meet me at a gun show so that I could appreciate firearm craftsmanship. "Feel its smooth lines. Run your fingers over the exquisite engraving. Maybe then you will understand how someone can receive as much pleasure from looking at it as you would receive if you had the Hope Diamond."

This art lover is a member of the National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and North American Turkey Federation. Although I didn't take him up on his offer, he's probably not dangerous unless you happen to be a duck, pheasant or turkey.

I'm not trying to get his gun, or the other 222 million guns in this country. Perhaps the current owners spend most of their time running their fingers over their exquisite engravings.Or shooting burglars.

But the U.S. death rate from firearms among kids 15 and younger is 12 times that of the rest of the industrialized world. Now that's impolite. And obscene.

Another rampage

May 21, there was another schoolyard rampage. A freckled boy who looks like Howdy Doody with a squint has been charged with the murder. Police say 15-year-old Kip Kinkel carried a rifle and two handguns.

He fired off 51 rounds. Two kids were killed, 22 wounded. Back at the police station, the boy pulled a knife on a police officer, who was not hurt. What if Kip's hidden weapon had been another gun? Guns do kill people. Most efficiently.

There always have been nutty teen-agers. But they didn't get that way overnight. Who thought it was a good idea to teach these future full-blown pecans how to use guns? One of the boys in Jonesboro, Ark., was taught to shoot by his father. He stole the guns from his grandfather.

William Kinkel, 59, was found shot to death, allegedly at the hands of his son. A family friend said Mr. Kinkel bought the guns and trained his son to use them to try to redirect the boy's fascination with weapons into a supervised hobby.

Kip should not have had the option to experiment.

Guns in the hands of children should be illegal. And whoever puts them there should be prosecuted. We are not a nation of guns. We are a nation of laws. Those of us who still believe that should be asking the people we elect to protect our children from the Kip Kinkels.

And from the William Kinkels.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com