Wednesday, May 7, 2008

High noon in home room

At the end of April, the Commercial Appeal ran an important report about guns in the Memphis public schools - 162 incidents over five years. Even with no fatalities and only a few actual woundings, this is a jaw-dropping number - close to one a week during the school year.

Six of the incidents happened at a school I once attended. One happened where my mother taught remedial reading many years ago, another where my father taught math even more years ago. Three guns were found at the high school that I could see from the dining room of the first house I really remember.

I have to wonder how many guns are not being found. Metal detectors only managed to find eight of the guns. Tips led to most of the confiscations. Many of the violating kids started as victims. How many gang members are too intimidating for anyone to rat on? How many of them carry a gun every day without the school system finding out?

What's the right way to make this better?

The NRA and its more rabid adherents will tell you that an armed society is a polite society. Oh, yeah, right. Like Baghdad. They will claim that the solution is to arm the teachers so that they can blow away the little miscreants.

High noon in home room, film at 11:00.

In fact, some of the kids are themselves enacting the NRA theory. They don't feel safe, so they arm themselves for self-defense. Of course, it's seldom that cut and dried; some of them, teetering on the brink of a life of crime, are defending themselves against violent consequences of their own acts.

I have no objection to more cops in the schools, especially those with large gang populations, and those cops have to be armed. They have to be more judicious than the cops who killed Sean Bell.

If metal detectors don't do much, is there a technology that could help? Sniffers for nitrogen compounds? They're way too expensive, but they might have fewer false positives than metal detectors. What about the airport machines that see through your clothes? Oh, yeah, imagine sending your daughter in to school every day for a high-tech strip search. Surveillance cameras? Aside from the fact that the schools probably have them already - Big Brother Jr. - I've never seen any security video outside of the movies that is more than slightly useful to find a gun before it's in flagrant use, when there's still something to do besides proving guilt.

What's left? The short answer is that I don't have a short answer. It's a hard problem.

Triage, first. One of the kids was only expelled after three offenses. I'm not interested in throwing away anyone - by forty, most of these kids will be through with crime, and the ones who are still alive will need education to succeed at all in work. But I'm most interested in preserving a chance to learn for the children who don't sling a gun into their book bags.

That's going to mean pulling juvy kids out into more secure schools. They can earn their way back to a normal schools by cleaning up.

But there are also liberal remedies that need to be applied to prevent the loss of youth. Kids need things to do, lots of them. I was appalled to learn that one of the kids who got caught in Memphis had found much less support from the community and government in New Orleans before Katrina washed it all away and sent him to Memphis as a refugee.

Conservatives love to lampoon midnight basketball, but you can't carry a gun on the court, and basketball doesn't cost much.

Originally published on TennViews.

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