Fiction and firearms Youth violence: Adults may have overreacted to murder story, but they must not neglect signs of trouble.

June 12, 1998

LURID STORIES of violent murder turn up in a Taneytown middle-school literary magazine. A different type of magazine -- an arsenal of firearms, ammunition and the makings of a bomb -- is found in the home of an Eldersburg teen-ager.

These recent incidents in Carroll County resonate beside more horrific events elsewhere in the nation, in which armed youngsters killed and wounded teachers and classmates.

The news causes people to wonder about the deepest psychology of adolescents; we wonder how to discern harmless role-playing from truly harmful intent.

The danger is that we may confuse imaginative writing that has passed through a teacher's screening with the obvious possession of firearms and explosives.

The Taneytown sixth-grader who wrote the vivid short story says that the classmate-victim she named had agreed to the fictional treatment. School counselors and teachers did not appear concerned, knowing the author's other work and mental outlook. Parents reading the magazine were the ones who initiated the protest.

The author's intent may well have been misread. The episode, however, points up the need for parents, teachers and others who come in contact with young people to be alert to signals of anti-social behavior, to look beyond test scores and attendance.

Meanwhile, police found the arms cache -- a discovery less open to interpretation than fiction-writing -- through another youth. Two teen-agers were detained. The father of one boy was charged with neglect.

How sad that the proposed legal remedy is legislation to make it illegal for minors to possess firearms without direct parental supervision. This is not law already?

Police say they know most of the kids who are tied to four reputed "gangs" in Carroll, and claim to be on top of the situation. The public's fears are understandable, though, after too many tragedies in which adults who needed to be attuned to the serious problems of some young people were not.

Pub Date: 6/12/98

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