Blaming Mom and Dad

May 02, 1999|By Sidney Zion

IN THE beginning, Cain slew Abel. So how come God didn't punish Adam and Eve?

They had eaten the forbidden fruit and should have known that Cain had a serious case of sibling rivalry that might easily develop into fratricide.

But the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, gave the first parents a pass, despite their obvious retreat into denial.

Now, on the eve of the so-called 21st century, in the wake of the high school massacre in Colorado, President Clinton proposes felony prosecutions against parents who allow their children to have guns that end up causing death or injury.

The world has gone down endless dark roads since the Garden of Eden, but before Congress goes along with a war against parents, it ought to stop, look and listen -- and maybe make a U-turn.

Hard cases make bad law, said Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. This goes triple when frustration takes over, when the only issue becomes: "We have to do something."

The suicide killers who took 13 lives at Columbine High nearly two weeks ago, present the case in deadly color. And Mr. Clinton's move to punish parents has a pragmatic appeal. Why not prosecute mothers and fathers who "knowingly or recklessly" allow their kids to have guns that are used to shoot people?

Any parent who would fit this statute deserves the chair -- they are no better than Ma Barker, they are accessories to the crime.

But does anybody believe that the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the suicide killers, fit this description? If they had thought for a second that their kids would do this horrific act, wouldn't they have intervened?

To pass a felony statute against such parents says that they would stop their kids if they knew they would be prosecuted. Without such a law, they will continue to look the other way.

If we believe that, Jonah swallowed the whale. The notion that parents will control the violence of children to protect themselves from the law -- well, if that's the way we are today, we're doomed.

But if this is the road we decide to take, we cannot leave it at parents. The next defendants in criminal court will have to be cops and school teachers.

Harris and Klebold gave every kind of warning to the school and the police that they were bent on mass murder. In this way, they were truly Hitler's children. Didn't he do the same in "Mein Kampf"?

But like the free world in the 1920s, nobody believed. These kids not only told us on a Web site what they would do, but they also produced a video as a class project, describing the way they would kill classmates.

Attention was not paid. Just listen to Randy and Judy Brown, who went to the authorities after their son was threatened by Harris. Harris hurled a chunk of ice, breaking the windshield of their son's car. Later, Harris posted a death threat against their son on the Web.

"They [the police] dropped the ball," says Mr. Brown. "Now they are blaming the parents and everybody else."

Everybody who was anybody in the lives of the killers got it wrong. A juvenile officer portrayed them, after they pleaded guilty to breaking into a car, as intelligent young men with bright futures.

But Mr. Clinton wants only the parents. He doesn't need political consultant Dick Morris to tell him that there's nothing in it for him if he goes after the cops and teachers.

It doesn't take a village. It takes a poll.

Sidney Zion is a columnist for the New York Daily News.

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