A screenshot of a Statesman editorial from 2001. The writer claims that then-President George W. Bush ignored gun control issues in order to please his supporters. STATESMAN FILE

Originally published on March 21, 2001

“A disgraceful act of cowardice,” is how George W. Bush described the recent massacre at Santana High School in Santee, California.

Great. A troubled fifteen-year-old boy, allegedly harassed by his peers for years, now discovers that his president looks down on him, too. Often criticized for “not standing up for himself,” this apparently miserable high school freshman takes the “advice” a horrible step too far, only to find that the highest official in the land sees him as a hopeless wimp. Thus did Bush magnify the very image that may have driven the kid to this reckless behavior in the first place. Good going, Dubya!

Yet, I have to admit that I know where Bush is coming from. When he was growing up – and when I was growing up – the act of shooting an unarmed person or group of people was, indeed, seen as the height of cowardice. Shooting someone was illegal, regardless, but targeting people who lacked the time or the weapons to defend themselves was considered gutless, as well. Somewhere amidst the changes and upheavals of the last half of the twentieth century, we lost that value. Maybe it’s time to bring it back. Perhaps, that attitude is the reason why angry kids of the past were not as likely to seek such unexpected and violent revenge. And maybe, it would stay a few “trigger fingers” today.

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Maybe. But I also know that there’s a hidden assertion in Bush’s statement, the kind of unspoken words that shout their meaning out loud and clear. “Don’t blame the gun!” he seems to be saying. “Don’t think for a minute that this proves that we need greater gun control! Don’t assume for a minute that this proves that we need greater gun control! Don’t assume the commercial interests of the gun business should be brushed aside even by an inch! And don’t expect me to take a stand against the NRA or any other pro-gun organizations!”

Okay, I get that he’s probably also trying to put the responsibility for the crime “where it belongs” – on the kid who pulled the trigger, Charles Andrews Williams, known as “Andy” by his friends and relatives. Never mind that he was supposedly a victim of peer abuse. Never mind that his school did not appear to provide an effective way for kids to air their personal grievances and/or work out conflicts with each other. **Never mind his parents’ divorce and his long separation from his mother, either. Bush, I suspect, will not tolerate anyone’s trying to “explain away” the horror of such a murderous rampage.

But I doubt that it’s really the school, the parents, or the “bullies” that he’s trying to protect. Instead, I’m guessing it’s the national gun lobby. It’s the gun lovers and the gun sellers and the gun defenders that he’s attempting to shield.

No surprise, really. Whenever another major incident occurs involving guns, the division between the pro-gun and anti-gun forces widens. Each time the cry for tougher gun legislation gets louder. But the protest against that movement gets louder, too. Rather than unite to find a solution to this terrible problem, each side finds ways to reinforce its own position, digging in its collective heels. *

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And it’s obvious what side our president is on: the side of the gun (and the gun owners and the gun lobbyists, etc.). Oh, he may tell us that his heart “goes out” to the victims and their families, and I’m sure it does. But not enough to make him support the effort to stop the spread of guns. Not enough to propel him to put the interests of safety ahead of those of their right-wing, conservative, pro-gun activists (who, of course, are also usually pro-Republican). Not enough to prompt him to see that current gun laws are strictly enforced, or to aggressively push for new gun legislation and child safety devices.

Granted, Dubya isn’t responsible for making or changing the laws, That’s up to the legislative branch of the government. But his leadership is clearly and quite pointedly not in the direction of stricter gun control. Remember, this is the guy who signed into law a bill that allows Texans to carry concealed handguns, even in houses of worship.

Sure, I know that “guns (by themselves) don’t kill” and that “people do” And I know that Andy’s gun, or rather his father’s gun that the boy somehow appropriated, didn’t commit this notorious crime. Andy did. The deaths of his two fellow students and the wounding of thirteen others, both teens and adults, were all a direct result of three choices made by Andy. First, he chose to remove the gun from the cabinet where his father reportedly kept it locked up. Then he chose to bring it to school. Finally, he chose to start pulling that trigger. If he had said “No” to even one of those possibilities, the deadly incident would not have occurred.

But if the gun weren’t in the house. Or if it were so well hidden that he didn’t know about it or couldn’t find it. Or if it bore a safety device that he couldn’t undo. Then this tragedy wouldn’t have happened, no matter what choices this apparently sick child made. Do we really want to continue to put our fate in the (“trigger happy”) hands of such a tortured mind? I don’t think so.

No, guns don’t kill people. People do. But people with guns kill and injure more people more readily than those without. We need more control over the spread and use of guns.

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Enough said, I think. Yet, I’m certain that Bush and the pro-gun faction will find reasons to disagree.

*New York’s Senator Charles Schumer (Democrat) is trying to bridge the gap between the two groups by developing a specific code for gun use.

**Even now, the best that Santana High School could seem to do for Andy’s close friends was to tell them to transfer to another school. Admittedly aware that Andy fantasized about bringing a gun to school and firing it at people, they thought it was a joke and failed to report it. School officials are concerned, and rightly so, that other students might take vengeance on these few kids and beat them up. But note that they have no other method for dealing with this problem than to try to make it “go away.”

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