Monday, October 08, 2007

Children with guns

Yesterday I posted about an Only One who went on a murderous rampage killing a bunch of teenagers at a party in Wisconsin (original news story here). In the comments a woman had this to say about the incident:

A twenty year old young person, who in most states is not considered mature or responsible enough to drink alcohol legally, is given a shield and a weapon by both the sheriff's office and the police department, and you're surprised that he "lost control" or whatever the hell happened, and killed a group of kids? Shame on all of you. I'm so sick of "small town America" saying "That could never happen here." Guess what? It's happening every single day in "small town America." Don't you ever read the newspaper or watch the news? Wake up and smell the gunpowder. Whoever gave that KID a shield and weapon should be held legally responsible.

First of all horrible crimes can and do happen in "small town America". Just not as often as they do in large urban areas. However what I want to address is the idea that 20 is too young to be trusted with firearms or adult responsibility.

In the first place the average age of an American soldier in combat is 19 and the United States military entrusts those 19-year-olds with weapons far more powerful than the semi-automatic handgun that deputy was issued. Also for most of the history of this nation people considerably younger than 20 were entrusted with firearms. In a letter to a young Peter Carr, a schoolboy, Thomas Jefferson had this to say about firearms in the hands of children:
As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.

Someone might say that Jefferson lived a very long time ago but as recently as the 1950's school children who were on their public school's rifle team rode public transportation in New York City with their rifles in plain view without murdering anyone or touching off a panic among the general population.

In the part of the country where I live it is more common than not for a young boy to be given at least a .22 rifle by the age of 13, at the latest, and I know more than a few boys not old enough to drive who shoot and hunt with high powered rifles and 12 ga. shotguns. It goes without saying that none of them have ever committed murder.

Human nature does not change. Not from one year to the next or from one millennium to the next. If a man who grew up in depression era Texas could say the he and his friends were "desperately poor, but we didn't know it. We had horses and rifles and miles for playthings." And 14-year-old boys in I Love Lucy era New York City could ride the subway with rifles and Thomas Jefferson's young friend could make his gun his constant companion all without becoming spree killers then there is no reason that young people of today are not also just as potentially as trustworthy with weapons.

Any difference in the young people of today and the young people of 50, 100 or even 1000 years ago is not a difference in the basic nature of the people but in the society which socializes them.