Some days aren't muade for a humor columnist

April 22, 1999|By Kevin Cowherd

IF YOU STOPPED by this space for a laugh or two today, sorry, it ain't going to happen. The truth is, it's hard to think of anything other than Littleton, Colo., where two nuts armed to the teeth walked into their high school, turned it into a battlefield and left more than a dozen people dead.

So forgive me, but today I'm not much interested in laughs. Today, I'm trying to figure out what to tell my kids about all these school shootings.

What I want to know is, when did the script change? -- that's you kiss your kids in the morning and send them off to school, and then they come home in the afternoon and smile or frown and tell you about their day. That's the way it's supposed to happen.

Littleton, Colo., isn't supposed to happen.

Neither is Pearl, Miss., or West Paducah, Ky., or Jonesboro, Ark., or Edinboro, Pa., or any of the other all-American-sounding towns where schools have been turned into killing fields by glowering loners, and kids don't come home at the end of the day.

If you're the parent of a school-age child, here's the statistic that terrifies you: eight shootings at U.S. schools since 1997.

Maybe if you don't have kids at home, the shootings all seem to run together. But if you do have kids, each new report of a shooting makes your heart stop for a moment, and you think: "What if it happened at my kid's school?'

I was working in The Sun newsroom when the first reports about Littleton came in.

Looking up from my desk, I saw a half-dozen reporters gathered in front of a TV, where an aerial shot of police cars ringing a building was introduced with the graphic: "School Shooting."

As always happens in these situations, I could feel my pulse quicken. And my first thought was: "God, I hope that's not a local broadcast."

Hustling over to the TV, I saw that it was CNN reporting from a place called Littleton, Colo. Only then did I resume normal breathing.

Littleton was new to most of us, but we've seen the same images so many times: grim-faced cops huddled behind police cars, weeping students consoling each other, anguished parents arriving at the scene, paramedics working feverishly on blood-stained kids.

So now the topic du jour in the newspapers and talk shows is this: What's causing all these kids to snap and open fire in their schools?

And what's really frightening, of course, is that nobody knows for sure.

Some say it's our culture: kids watching too much violence on TV and in the movies, kids listening to gangsta rap, kids drenched in gore even in Nintendo games, where blood, even the cartoon kind, spurts like geysers.

Others say it's all the guns out there, the fact that you can buy a 9mm about as easily as you can buy a Snickers bar. (And please, let's not hear that tired refrain from the gun nuts that guns don't kill people, people kill people and blah, blah, blah.)

Others say it's a natural byproduct of a society that has always glorified violence in all its forms.

But nobody knows for sure. And nobody knows how to prevent the shootings. And that's why I don't know what to tell my kids anymore when they hear about another teen-ager who wigged out and opened fire in his school.

When these incidents first started happening, I'd tell my kids: "Don't worry, it's an isolated incident. You go to good schools, with good kids. It can't happen here."

But of course, it could happen here. Because the truth is, every school has its disaffected youth, its outsiders, its glowering loners seething with rage.

Maybe they don't walk around in black trench coats and wear swastikas and snap off Hitler salutes.

But they're there. And they've always been there.

Back when I was in high school, a hundred years ago, we had a big, hulking, weird guy who came to school every day with a brown paper bag full of nails.

At lunchtime, we'd meet him on the side of the school and pay him a buck to see him bend these huge nails. Then he'd strike these ridiculous Mr. Olympia poses and we'd rag him unmercifully.

We'd call him a jerk and a muscle-bound loser and tell him he was a shoo-in to be named "Most Likely To Show Up in an Unemployment Line."

Oh, sure, we worried that one day he might snap and kick our butts. But we never worried that he'd stroll into the cafeteria with a .45 under his coat and start blasting away.

Times sure have changed. And here it is, 48 hours later, and I still don't know what to tell my kids about the shootings in Littleton, Colo.

I guess I'll tell them it was another isolated incident.

Then I'll give them a kiss and send them off to school.

And pray that it doesn't happen here.

Pub Date: 04/22/99

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