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School Killings

May 8, 1999

Politicians like Bill Clinton are using the murder of twelve high-school students in Littleton, Colorado, as a call for new gun control measures. This is an attempt to cover up the real culprit, the evil-doers themselves. If, however, we want to locate an institutional source that contributed to the bloodshed, look no further than the government itself.

Compulsory Attendence.

More than 1800 students rounded up and forced into a building is not a high school; it's an obscene bureaucratic factory. Compulsory attendance laws have made schools function much like prisons, with the attendant mix of tyranny and social anarchy. How much better to permit students who would rather be out working to do so?

Clearly, the murderers did not want to be there, but compulsory attendance laws have made leaving an unrespectable option even for those past the age requirement.

In 1996, the Colorado legislature considered and rejected a bill that would have repealed compulsory schooling throughout the state. The result would have been a flourishing of private alternatives. But the teachers' unions, fearing a decline in the head count, defeated it. Had that bill passed, the killers would likely have left the school.

The opponents of the legislation argued it is enough that schools be permitted to kick out the trouble makers.

But as Dwight Filley wrote for the Independence Institute of Colorado, "doesn't it seem inconsistent to first have a law that forces every child into school, and then to have another law that forces teachers to throw out the bad apples? Why round them up and put them in school, and then throw them out? Why not just repeal the compulsory education requirement and save all the trouble?" (See "Are Schools Prisons or Centers of Learning".)

More directly to the point, as a class project, the two murderers produced a video of themselves walking down the corridors of their high school pretending to kill their fellow students. This didn't tip off their teacher of potential problems, and presumably resulted in passing grades for the two Satanic-Nazi-murderers.

Government police.

The media laud their valor and courage, but they fail to point out that one concerned father found the murderers' website and downloaded a copy of their plans and bomb making efforts and provided the local sheriff with two copies (the sheriff lost the first copy). This parent made more than twelve follow-up calls with no response.

Gun control.

When the killers drew their guns, they did so with the assurance that they would have more firepower than anyone else in the building. Why? Federal and state legislation has disarmed teachers and principals, leaving everyone vulnerable to the hoodlums.

Anyone who offers gun control as a solution is either covering up for their own failures or practicing the worse kind of political opportunism, or both. Existing gun controls keep schoolyards "gun free" and allow these horrors to take place. In the absence of gun control, this horrific episode might have remained a fantasy. As John Lott has concretely demonstrated in More Guns, Less Crime, we need more guns in schools, not less.

Professor Lott further demonstrates in a paper published on line by the University of Chicago that states that allow people to carry concealed weapons experience fewer of these kinds of terrorist acts.

Public Schools.

They are breeding grounds for frustration and anger, so it's hardly surprising they are becoming as dangerous as government post offices. If WalMart stores were common sites for murder sprees, there would be an outcry against the management and demands for the store to improve safety. The media would examine every aspect of the corporate culture of WalMart to discover the hidden seeds of violence. Where, then, is the outcry against public schools themselves?

Statist Ideology.

The statist media will have none of this. They thrive on blood and crime, the two main byproducts of government's consumption of our tax dollars. The media supports gun control because it increases carnage (i.e. headline photos and footage) while gun ownership stops the flow of blood before it starts.

Witness the media's treatment of two heroes who stopped previous shooting sprees on campuses. In a 1997 Mississippi school shooting, assistant principle Joel Myrick retrieved a gun from his car (it's illegal to have guns on campus, remember) and stopped a student shooting spree five minutes before police even arrived. Only two percent of nearly 700 newspaper reports even mentioned Myrick, and only one percent mentioned that he used a gun.

In Pennsylvania, James Strand stopped a school-related shooting spree with his shotgun a full eleven minutes before police arrived. Again, Strand was mentioned in five percent of 600 newspaper stories and far fewer mentioned that his gun made it all possible. Contrast this with the teacher killed in Littleton who was discussed in more than five times the number of stories as our heroes Myrick and Strand combined.

The real solutions to tragedies like the Littleton, Colorado massacre are simple and effective. First, eliminate all forms of government gun control. Second, repeal compulsory education laws. Third, permit the flourishing of private police and security services that are paid to protect us so we don't have to depend on bureaucrats who have no real incentive to reduce crime. Fourth, go to the heart of the problem by selling off public schools to private enterprise to own and manage.

Government schools and police are uneconomical. It takes tragedies like Littleton to remind us just how counterproductive and poisonous these institutions are for society.

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Mark Thornton is O.P. Alford III Resident Scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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