Monday, November 28, 2005

Teens and Gun Violence

AP Photo/John Harrell

"Remember, guns don't kill people -- unless you practice real hard." Bill Maher

I have a hypothesis about guns. Here's the first part: You can't shoot people if you don't have a gun. Obviously, a no-brainer.

But what about the flip side, of which I'm thoroughly convinced: If you use guns regularly, you will think about shooting people. And you could one day act on those thoughts. Especially if you're a teenager, biologically and psychologically in great flux and lacking impulse control.

Conservative Republicans, Right Wingnuts and all diehard (die being the operative word) supporters of the Right to Bear Arms seem never to think about that possibility. Especially when they're proudly displaying their gun collections and their kids' impressive hunting skills. In their equal insistence on the Right to Life, have they never considered the flip side: with all their homegrown emphasis on guns, they are teaching their children to kill? Apparently not.

A thoughtful story in the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday titled What is your teen thinking? explores the stunning shooting murder in Lititz, PA of a 14-year-old girl's parents by her 18-year-old secret boyfriend. A shocking, violent crime. Inexplicable. Unexpected. Unpredictable. Or was it? On the surface, maybe. But dig just one layer deeper and there it is, like a flashing neon sign: Guns.

The back story is beyond prosaic. The teens met through a Christian homeschooling network. Both come from devout Christian families -- devoted, decent, hardworking bastions of American middle class values. Her parents thought he was too old for her. It's unclear if his parents knew she existed.

Yet 14-year-old Kara Bordon--baby-sitter, soccer player, Christian rock fan-- defied her parents' express order to stay away from 18-year-old David Ludwig--Circuit City employee, dirt biker, hunter. Hunter. Hold that thought, we'll get back to it.

When Kara's parents took away her Internet access to stop the relationship, the teens kept in touch by cell phone and text messaging. Kara snuck out of the house to have sex with David. And to pose semi-clothed for photos he kept on his computer. Also on his computer was a video of David and a friend discussing an armed raid on an unidentified home. An armed raid. Another point in a line leading to murder.

As is the back story on David Ludwig himself. According to the Inquirer article,
Hunting, popular in Lancaster County, was a family affair. On Ludwig's Web log, photos labeled "Hunting 2004" showed him proudly standing next to his kill and smiling adults eating dinner in a rustic kitchen.

Ludwig had access to an extensive array of guns. Police confiscated 54 from his parents' home after the Bordens were slain.
Well. There it is. The smoking gun, so to speak. 54 of them, in fact. Can somebody please tell me why a family in Central Pennsylvania--or anywhere outside of Iraq, come to think of it--needs 54 guns? So my question is: What were David Ludwig's parents thinking?

Some of Kara and David's friends knew there was trouble brewing, but said nothing. Parents of other "good kids" worry it could happen to them because they won't see the signs. Psychologists are coming out of the woodwork to explore the culture of youth violence and silence. The Inquirer again:
Why don't they tell? Some worry "their parents can't deal with it..."

Every child has a hidden life. It's a normal part of establishing identity, experts say.

"You just hope," said psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler, author of Stressed-Out Girls, that "whatever they keep secret is benign enough that it's not going to be hurtful."
Excuse me, but there was nothing secret about David Ludwig's access to 54 guns. And no kid can deal with that.

We don't know yet why David Ludwig exploded into murder. But we do know how. Like the boys in Columbine, like the Bucks County teen who shot and killed his father this summer, like virtually all kids involved in tragic violence -- he had parent-approved, easy access to guns.

We might be shocked, but we shouldn't be surprised that he used them to kill. And to those parents worried about their own kids, I say: Get rid of the guns and you've won far more than half the battle.

PA's Voice for Gun Violence Prevention

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