The 60 or so mayors who visited Salt Lake City in recent days along with police chiefs and Attorney General Janet Reno, seemed sincere in their efforts to curb youth violence. The danger, however, is that they may become too zealous.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors is working on a master plan it wants to send to Washington. At its meetings here, the subject received a lot of attention, mainly because Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini, chairwoman of the conference, has made it a priority.But at its heart, the problem of youth violence belongs to parents, families and churches to solve, not to government. To the extent that it can help parents and others teach and reinforce moral standards and protect children from unnecessary dangers, government should get involved. Beyond that, it isn't likely to help much.
Metal detectors and most gun-control laws wouldn't stop the kinds of violence that tore through schools in Jonesboro, Ark., Springfield, Ore, and West Paducah, Ky., earlier this year. Yet those are the types of things discussed by the mayors.
There is a danger that governments - particularly the federal government - will overreact to a series of extremely tragic, yet anomalous, events. While the scenes of carnage at school shootings are disturbing and heart wrenching, there is little to suggest that youth violence is spiraling out of control in the United States. In fact, statistics suggest the opposite.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled data showing the chances of a child being killed at school are less than one in a million. Assaults at school are happening at the same rate today as in 1976. According to the National School Safety Center, schoolyard killings were down 27 percent last year as compared to 1992-93 - in spite of the well-publicized shootings.
Despite popular notions, school shootings are not this generation's invention. They have always plagued American society to one extent or another. The difference is they typically used to involve minorities and take place at underprivileged schools. The recent shootings happened in white suburban or rural schools and involved multiple victims.
School shootings of any kind deserve serious attention from parents, schools and, yes, governments. But as some states begin changing their laws to allow for children to face the death penalty and other propose stripping youths of their constitutional rights against illegal searches and seizures, the dangers of official overreaction are real.
We support instituting better after-school programs that keep young people occupied during the hours when crimes typically occur. We also support some measures aimed at limiting under-aged access to firearms and we deplore the saturation of violence on television and in movies. But we see little need for government to become too involved in pushing solutions that rightly belong within the purview of the family.