The bad news is that one first grader, from a family so dysfunctional that the thought of him trapped in it breaks your heart, shot and killed another. Two already fragile families are now traumatized beyond any near-term redemption. The good news? Buell Elementary, the school in Flint, Michigan, where this horror unfolded, has received a state-of-the-art security system. Free!

Now, eight cameras will electronically store images, and just in case little Johnny is masterminding a knee-high conspiracy, it will also record conversations. As one article delicately put it, the system will "help teachers and administrators keep up with students and watch for intruders." Finally, we'll be able to figure out once and for all exactly who is sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.

The little darlings grow up knowing that someone, somewhere, is always watching. Big Brother knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.

Surrealism was a potent
response to the chaos of life between the two world wars--shouldn't we try a surreal response to school-yard violence?

And the sooner tykes learn to accept the benefits of the examined life, the better. Parks and public spaces throughout the nation already have cameras mounted and rolling so that police forces can make arrests at their leisure. Every day, more workplaces train cameras and microphones on their employees and monitor their phone, e-mail, and web usage, all with the blessings of the courts. Intersections are routinely videotaped, and traffic citations arrive efficiently by mail--what's a small privacy violation compared with the horrifying prospect of an unpunished traffic violation?

Anyway, Surrealism was a potent response to the chaos of life between the two world wars--shouldn't we try a surreal response to school-yard violence?

There's just one problem with our camera-readiness, though. Our reflex installation of security systems in schools is an affront to the sage decision to prevent more Columbines by posting the Ten Commandments in hallways. God, not Sony, is the one who's supposed to be watching over us.

Granted, posting the Decalogue hasn't stopped the carnage, but surely that's because of the limited reading skills of first graders. Perhaps the youngest children should be required to learn them by heart and recite them every morning. That should stop the violence.

Or maybe it's my reading skills that are the problem. If I'm following news reports correctly, the National Rifle Association blames gun-control advocates, as epitomized by President Clinton, for gun violence. NRA vice president Wayne LaPierre said recently that the president chooses not to enforce existing gun-control measures because he "needs a certain level of violence in this country" and that "he's willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda."

Three days later, LaPierre said that Clinton "had blood on his hands" in the killing last summer of basketball coach Ricky Birdsong. The white supremacist who murdered him was liable for immediate arrest when he failed the background check for legally purchasing a gun. So why wasn't he arrested before he could kill?

What LaPierre didn't say, of course, is that the NRA has fought to prevent every gun law ever proposed from being enacted and to defang any one that somehow made it into a law book. In Illinois, where Smith bought his weapons, the state, not the federal government, is responsible for background checks. Congress and the gun lobby do their part to make America safe for guns by making it all but impossible for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to function. They routinely oppose any increase in the beleaguered agency's budget, though there are at least 58 gun dealers for every agent (who also has other responsibilities).

Because of the NRA, the law requires that inspections of gun dealers be limited to one a year, and those inspections can't be random. Gun-control advocates want to institute a 72-hour waiting period and a limit of one gun purchase a month, but so far the NRA has successfully fought these proposals. The NRA has also fought to keep open a loophole that allows gun purchasers to buy one gun at a time without drawing the ATF's attention. Smith bought his gun from a man who bought one gun at a time, 65 times, from one store alone. He resold them, at a large profit, to men like Smith through classified ads. So who is it with blood on his hands? I'm confused.

Just the other day, The Washington Post reported that a sixth grader packing dad's handgun held his classmates and teacher at gunpoint; he wanted to join his mother in jail. The way we're going--trying more juveniles as adults instead of tending to their needs before they hurt someone--he'll probably get his wish. Thankfully, another teacher was able to talk him into surrendering the weapon before anyone got hurt.

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