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U.S.: Clinton Suggests Violence May Be By-product Of U.S. Culture

Washington, 25 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says the latest school shooting incident in which two students were killed and 22 others suffered wounds mirrors a violent American pop culture.

The incident last week involved a 15 year-old boy who is accused of opening fire with a rifle in a crowded high school cafeteria. The teenager is also suspected of killing his parents.

The shooting in Springfield, Oregon, followed a string of other schoolhouse attacks that began last October and have claimed the lives of 14 teachers and students. All of the accused have been white males ages 11 to 18.

Clinton said in a nationwide radio address during the weekend that he is "struggling to make sense of this senseless" incident. The president said he is "profoundly troubled by the startling similarity of this crime to the other tragic incidents" involving guns at America's public schools.

Clinton said: "We must face up to the fact these are more than isolated incidents. They are symptoms of a changing culture that desensitizes our children to violence, where most teenagers have seen hundreds of murders on television and in movies and in video games before they graduate from high school."

Clinton urged Congress to pass a crime bill that would ban violent juveniles from buying guns for life. And he said parents, teachers, and community leaders must do more to educate the nation's children about "the unblinking distinction between right and wrong."

As the president put it: "We may never understand the dark forces that drive young people to commit such horrible crimes. But we must honor the memories of the victims by doing everything we possibly can to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future."

Eric Holder, the deputy attorney general of the United States, said yesterday the Justice Department has convened a group of experts from a variety of fields to look at school violence in America.

Holder said in a television interview (on the U.S. network NBC) that a preliminary report is expected to be completed by the fall of 1998 along with recommendations on how to prevent school violence.

Holder said that in homicides where the victims are children, 81 percent of them occur when kids using guns kill other children.

Commenting about a possible relationship between viewing violent images on television and in the movies and committing acts of violence Holder said: It's (viewing) got to have a negative effect. It desensitizes kids."

Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, California, cautions, however, there is no clear-cut national solution to school violence.

"The book is still being written on developing strategies for these types of things," Stephens says in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Clearly, they are not going to be able to prevent all of the crises. If you can't prevent them, the next best thing is how to prepare for them."

In an editorial on Friday, The New York Times called for stronger laws to deny children access to guns and ammunition.

The editorial noted that the teen-age suspect in Oregon reportedly brought a gun to school the day before the shooting incident. He was suspended, arrested by police and returned to the custody of his parents.

The newspaper said the repeated incidents of gun violence by children should alarm even the strongest opponents of gun control. A recent study by the U.S. Education Department says more than 6,000 students were expelled last year for bringing guns into America's schools. Almost 600 of these were from elementary schools.

To cope with this problem, some schools are hiring security guards and installing metal detectors not unlike those used at airports to screen out weapons. Others are offering counseling and telephone hot lines. But many schools simply lack the money to do anything at all.

U.S. criminologist James Fox says there is "some contagion effect," arguing that the more these crimes occur at schools around America, the more likely they are to take place again.

Fox says (on the U.S. TV network CBS): The shooters in these instances are often seen as heroes in the eyes of other kids who may be alienated, unhappy and want to get even. And they see these shooters as someone who had the nerve, someone who had the guts to go out there and win for the little guys."