Young guns

October 16, 1991

How can teachers do their job when they can never be sure that students in their classrooms aren't packing heat?

If that sounds like an exaggeration of the juvenile delinquency scare described in the classic 1950s film, "Blackboard Jungle," it is not. The problem of students bringing weapon to school is real and growing. Last week the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reported that one in five high school students sometimes carries a gun, knife or other weapon -- with the intention of using it if necessary. Among boys, the figure was nearly one in three.

The trend can be seen right here at home. Last Thursday, for example, Baltimore County police, alerted by a tip, arrested two teen-agers near Perry Hall High School and charged them with handgun violations after the pair allegedly admitted planning to "settle a score" with another student.

In that case, police were lucky to get wind of the scheme before anyone was injured or killed. But the dozens of shootings, stabbings and maimings that are reported each week -- an alarming number of which are committed by school-age youths -- attests to the fact that the quick resort to deadly force is no longer mainly the province of hardened adult criminals.

Opponents of gun control never tire of asserting that gun laws can't make a difference. But the sheer numbers involved -- the CDC figures suggest that literally millions of students are arming themselves -- simply could not be sustained in the face of tough restrictions on gun ownership enforced on a national basis. What is wrong with present laws is not that they aren't tough enough, but that they aren't uniform. Guns banned in Maryland, for example, are readily available in Virginia.

Until Congress and the administration can muster the political courage to enact national gun control legislation, young gunslingers will keep on terrorizing communities and exacting a deadly toll among their peers.

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