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The human costs of a gun culture

A Times Editorial
Published October 4, 2006

America's heart goes out to the Amish families whose children were killed or injured in a monstrous act of violence. Five girls died and five more lie wounded in Pennsylvania hospitals fighting for their lives after being bound and shot. There is no way to sum up the grief, fear and rage all compassionate people feel about such senseless cruelty.

Unfortunately, it is not a rare event in a culture that too much celebrates guns and violence. The man who committed this crime, Charles Roberts, 32, a father of three, shot himself after police arrived and left a cryptic suicide note. He indicated that he had molested young relatives when he was 12 and had an urge to do so again. We may never know the full story.

Police couldn't say if it was a copycat crime. Five days ago another deranged man walked into a school, this time in Colorado, rounded up six girls, sexually assaulted them and shot one girl to death, then killed himself rather than face capture.

Some observers search for motive, as though there is an acceptable explanation for why a person would hurt innocents. Better to use that energy to discover what is wrong in a society that can't protect its children and that even visits violence on the Amish, a community of religious ascetics whose withdrawal from the modern world couldn't protect them from harm.

There are no simple answers, but one thing is sure: Such crimes could not occur without easy access to guns. Tougher gun laws are unlikely to stop a deranged man like Roberts, whose guns were purchased legally. But that doesn't mean we should surrender this issue to the gun lobby. Lawmakers in state legislatures and Congress have it within their power to bring sanity to gun laws, but they lack the political will. In fact, Congress seems bent on weakening the gun laws already on the books. The U. S. House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would make it more difficult for authorities to go after bad gun shops. What will the Senate do with the bill?

If this tragedy in the heart of Amish country doesn't wake up Americans and give lawmakers a backbone, then what will it take?

[Last modified October 3, 2006, 23:43:22]

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