Littleton Massacre Spurs New Efforts To Deter School Violence
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON, DC - In an eerie coincidence, policymakers in Oregon, Georgia and Virginia were taking steps to tighten school security laws when the massacre in Columbine High School forever burned Littleton, Colo. into public consciousness last week. Several other states, including Colorado, were poised to liberalize gun laws, but most of those measures were put on hold as the nation grieved over its latest schoolhouse slaughter.
Oregon's legislative package, which passed the same day as last Tuesday's shooting spree, would require detention and mental evaluation of any youth arrested for illegal possession of a firearm on public school property. Schools would be informed of a student's criminal history and violent or abusive behavior. The bills passed unanimously.
Another measure still awaiting action by Oregon lawmakers, but likely to be expedited by events in Littleton, would prevent authorities from releasing a student who brandished a gun on campus prior to a court hearing. Also, school employees would have to report to police any student who had been on campus with a weapon within the past 120 days.
This proposal is a direct response to last year's shooting in Springfield, Ore. in which a student killed two other students just 24 hours after the school principal reported him to the police for purchasing a gun.
The student had been released to his parents, whom he also allegedly killed.
Two days after the Colorado massacre, Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes signed bills that require the state's public schools to establish policies to handle bullies and abusive students and provide funds that will let smaller schools hire armed guards. Barnes also asked the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, which managed security for the 1996 Summer Olympics, to help school plans for dealing with violence and terrorism.
In Virginia, Gov. Jim Gilmore approved legislation in the aftermath of the shootings that puts a student who brandishes a firearm in school behind bars for 5 years.
Although the pro-gun governor wanted the law amended to allow students who hunt to have guns in their cars on campus during hunting season, he conceded there was no chance of this after the Littleton incident and accepted the bill without such a provision.
Last year, 36 states considered some kind of school safety legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Past approaches to school violence have included sharing juvenile records with teachers, increasing the use of police, metal detectors and video monitors, strengthening penalties against students who bring firearms to schools and other preventive programs.
Twenty-four states acted to liberalize gun laws in 1998, and still more states were on track to join them when last week's events brought the pro-gun bandwagon to at least a temporary halt.
Three bills that would have radically changed Colorado's gun policy, including a measure authorizing the carrying of concealed firearms, were withdrawn from consideration after the shootings and appear to be dead for the year.
Rep. Doug Dean, a leading proponent of the measures, said it was "no time to engage in a political discussion of this issue."
In Arizona, Gov. Jane Hull vetoed a bill that would have banned cities from enacting municipal gun control ordinances, and Florida House Speaker John Thrasher killed a bill that would have made it illegal for cities in that state to sue gun manufacturers.
Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and Connecticut Gov. John Rowland said they would convene statewide conferences on school violence. The sharpest response to Littleton so far came in the California Assembly, which passed a bill intended to crack down on the sale of handguns.
The Colorado mayhem marked the ninth time in the last three years that students have been killed in school by other students. According to the federal Department of Education, 25 students were murdered by other students during the 1996-97 school year. Forty students were murdered by other students in the 1997-1998 school year.
Days before the Littleton shooting spree occurred, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee signed a bill into law in making it possible for children of any age to receive adult sentences for capital murder or first-degree murder.
The law was passed a year after five children were killed in a schoolyard shooting in Jonesboro.