Jonesboro's lesson

March 30, 1998

This is an excerpt of a Thursday Chicago Tribune editorial:

Once again, the nation has been convulsed by a heinous act of violence apparently committed by a child. Two children, in fact, one of them 11 years old and the other 13.

Somehow, the authorities say, the two boys acquired a small arsenal and used it Tuesday to shoot down 15 students and teachers at the Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark. Four of those students and one of the teachers died as a result of their wounds.

And while the origins of the guns used in the Jonesboro shootings remain unclear, the fact that Arkansas law permits children to own firearms suggests another question: Even by the most expansive reading of the Second Amendment, can the Founding Fathers have had 11- and 13-year-olds nursing schoolboy grievances in mind when they wrote that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"?

The Jonesboro killings can be expected to inspire an assortment of public-policy responses. Among them, no doubt, will be moves in Arkansas and elsewhere to stiffen punishment for youths found guilty of heinous crimes by lowering the age at which offenders can be tried as adults.

But our problem is not that we don't treat youths enough like adults after they offend; it's that we don't treat them enough like children before they do.

Pub Date: 3/30/98

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