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Kids, Guns and the Media

by Annie
The Cody Express
March 23, 2001


  On March 15, 2001 an 8-year-old boy in Irvington, New Jersey stood up in his classroom, pointed a piece of paper folded to look like a gun at his classmates and said, “I’m going to kill you all.”  The boy obtained the paper weapon from another student, who had done the same thing earlier in the day.  The two boys were suspended and in keeping with the school’s zero-tolerance policy, the Irvington Police later charged them with making terrorist threats.  School superintendent Ernest Smith said, “I thought this was unfortunate.  But, being that kids are being shot in schools across the country, children have to be taught they can’t say certain words in public.”[i] 

To visualize this scene in a second grade classroom is disturbing, to say the least.  But even more disturbing is the idea that an 8-year-old child could even conceive of pulling such a stunt.  It begs the question: Just what are we teaching our children? 

We were all kids at one time and we all know that children are great imitators.  Much of our play was based on what we saw in the adult world.  We were mommies, daddies, nurses, doctors, policemen, firemen, cowboys, and teachers.  We played with toy tool sets, toy kitchens, baby dolls, and toy guns.  We “mowed” lawns, “cooked” meals, “taught” classes, etc, etc.  Our play was a reflection of what we saw taking place in the world around us – in our homes, in our schools, at the movies and on television.  

To what kind of world are our children exposed today?  What kind of world are they reflecting?  Where could these two 8-year-old boys have learned the behavior they played out in their classrooms?  I think it would be a good bet that they didn’t see Mommy or Daddy display such behavior.  So, whose actions are they imitating and where did they see it?  

We can all agree that no one wants to see a child harmed -- by a firearm or anything else.  And we all want to create for our kids a world that is as safe as is humanly possible.  But perhaps the quest by gun control advocates and a sympathetic media to insulate our kids from gun violence and convince the entire nation that guns should be strictly controlled, if not completely banished, has reached an unintended target.  With each school tragedy, gun control activists and organizations blanket our airwaves and print media with statements about the incident and proposed solutions to the problem.  The television news media spend hours of broadcast time repeating the details, interviewing every available witness and repeatedly running videotape of the aftermath.  And when they run out of new details and witnesses, news anchors express their dismay at society’s failure to identify the factors that lead our children to commit such horrendous acts.  Adults can’t escape it, and neither can our kids. 

We hear reports about bullying.  We hear reports about loners.  We hear reports about the lack of parental responsibility.  We hear reports about the easy availability of guns.  Within a day or two, we begin to hear reports of the copycat shootings. 

We’re told the parents are at fault.  We’re told the gun is at fault.  We’re told the lack of common sense regulation is at fault. 

But we’re never reminded that kids are great imitators.  We’re never cautioned that children see and hear a lot more than we think they do.  And we’re never told, except by a few lone voices that are routinely ignored, that the sensationalistic use of these incidents for ratings and political gain may be a significant factor in influencing our children’s behavior.  

Where do two 8-year-old boys learn to imitate shooting up their classrooms?  What can parents do to prevent such disturbing incidents?  Perhaps they should start by turning off the TV.

[i] Playing Cops and Robbers Nets Terrorist Charge For Pair of Second-Graders in New Jersey, Associated Press, March 21, 2001

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