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Anita C. Wheeler, President, Associated Student Congress of Baltimore City

The massacre in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999 served as a "wake up call" to our entire country. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris stormed Columbine High School wearing black trenchcoats loaded down with explosives. By the time the bloody rampage was over, 15 were dead and 23 hospitalized. Since that tragedy, there have been other instances of gun violence in our schools: most shocking, the shooting by a six-year-old first grader of his six-year-old classmate in a school just outside Flint, Michigan. These appalling events have dramatically moved a solid majority of people to demand stronger and permanent gun control.

On May 18, 1999, I had the opportunity to speak before a Congressional subcommittee on the topic of school violence. The recent chain of school killings was fresh in the minds of all who were present. These incidents have triggered a nationwide discussion of how to prevent this kind of violence from happening in the future. At the hearing, much was discussed about how these incidents affect the already unstable school climate. Students testified that gun control was a priority, along with the long term solutions to provide adequate funding for schools: for reduced class size, more psychologists in the schools, more after-school programs, increased parental involvement, and utilization of student leaders.

However, only band-aid solutions have been offered. The quick "fix" now being implemented by a number of schools around the country is to treat all students as potential killers. This includes turning our schools into virtual jails with the increased use of armed police officers, metal detectors, unconstitutional search and seizure, and other gimmicks like see-through bookbags. The militarization of the schools only heightens tension, and doesn't create an atmosphere for learning and conflict resolution. We can't continue to see this as an acceptable form of "solving" the problem.

Stopping guns at the front door of the school does not mean that they won't be in the playground. We must encourage our legislators to pass strong national gun control laws. The National Center for Health Statistics says that every day 15 children ages 19 and under are killed by handguns. At the hearing, most of the students who testified said that gun control legislation would be the most effective way to prevent gun violence in schools. General consensus among the students who testified was rejection of right wing ideals like school prayer, surveillance cameras, armed guards, and metal detectors in schools. The fact that here in the U.S. 222 million firearms are in possession of private citizens, including 76 million handguns, proves that guns are readily available.

Along with anti-gun legislation, the government has to tighten up hate crimes legislation. The students in Littleton we're not robbing someone for shoes or taking their books. They systematically choose victims based on race and hatred. These students did not have psychiatric illnesses, they had political training from the likes of Hitler and Company. Students and government have to take a stand against fascism and not allow these kinds of crimes to be perpetuated. President Clinton needs to lead by example. The day after the Columbine shooting he was on the TV saying how youth need to learn how to deal with stress by talking and not by violence. However, the same evening news headlined the continued bombing of an entire country, led by Clinton and NATO.

Recently, Smith & Wesson, a major manufacturer of handguns, signed a consent decree on gun safety locks and restrictions on sale of their guns at gun shows. The National Rifle Association responded with a furious attack on Smith & Wesson and President Clinton. They accused the President of welcoming handgun fatalities. These purveyors of gun violence are pouring millions into the 2000 election to elect their hand picked right wing Republicans to the White House and Congress. We helped to answer them by joining the "Million Mom March" against gun violence on Mother's Day. Bridget Moriarty of Sandy Spring, Maryland, told the Congressional subcommittee about an anti-violence rally she organized at her school in response to the Columbine tragedy. This is a movement that could help decide the 2000 election.

Mothers and students like Moriarty, who want to start national movements, need to be supported. Young people need to take the lead in creating a mass movement to demand increased funding for our public schools, tougher gun control laws, and a ban on all the racist and fascist threats that infect our schools and communities.