Friday, August 20, 2004


Gun violence at school: Do measures to stop it make it in fact more likely to happen? Is the violence partly caused by all the hype about how dangerous gun-possession can be?

"But whatever the explanation for why a few weird and unstable American teenagers choose to vent their spleen through shooting their classmates, the preoccupation with school safety that has made fear of violence in schools into a national obsession probably has not helped.

The preoccupation with safety in schools and the fear of violence in schools predates the infamous school shootings in Columbine (April 1999) or even Jonesboro (March 1998). Since the early 1990s, school boards and principals have been keen to enact high-profile 'zero tolerance' campaigns against weapons in school.

State legislatures have also put much energy into being seen to take the matter of school safety seriously. A whole range of measures are now commonplace in US schools, from surveillance cameras on school buses to metal detectors at school entrances, and from the banning of anything that could be deemed gang insignia to the permanent police presence within some school campuses....

When all of this is taken together, it is clear that US schools convey a very clear message to students. Students - especially teenagers - are to be feared and, without rigorous regulation and policing, adults believe students will naturally be violent and dangerous. In this kind of atmosphere, is it so incredible that some nutcases choose to play the part?"

Prohibition generally is counterproductive:

"The psychology of prohibition can inform our views about how censorship works. A few weeks ago, in the now-completed trial of Frank Quattrone, the judge ordered the media not to release the names of jurors pending the trial's outcome. Despite the fact that there was general agreement among the media that jurors' names should not be released, several newspapers hired a lawyer to protest the judge's ruling. The judge had, in effect, made something appealing that had previously had no appeal.

Many years ago, when struggling author Mark Twain released his book "Huckleberry Finn," he got an unexpected gift from the city of Boston. The book was "banned in Boston," and naturally went on to become a must-read everywhere. Federico Fellini, the Italian filmmaker, once said, "Censorship is advertising paid by the government."

Want Howard Stern's show to attract a few more listeners? Get Clear Channel to pull him of the air. Ted Koppel read the names of soldiers killed in Iraq without embellishment for half an hour. One media provider blacked out the show on its ABC affiliates and viewership climbed by 30 percent."

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