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Thursday, March 26, 1998 Published at 15:07 GMT

Special Report

Arkansas shootings: US press asks why
image: [ Mourning for the victims: Four girls and a teacher were shot dead with high-powered weapons ]
Mourning for the victims: Four girls and a teacher were shot dead with high-powered weapons

Editorials in the American press on Thursday searched for explanations for the school killings in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

In an editorial entitled 'Trigger-Happy', The Washington Post pins the blame squarely on the prevalence of guns as part of the American way of life.

The paper quotes an array of statistics to show that the United States continues to have the highest number of deaths by gunfire in the western world. It says there is more than enough evidence to show that, if guns must be as prevalent as they are, more effective public safety measures are needed.

The New York Times is more circumspect in its verdict, calling the killings "a horrific aberration", rather than part of a trend of growing violence in schools, though it points out there have been several other shootings at American schools in recent months.

The "fragile" personality of youth, easy access to guns and an entertainment world that desensitizes some children to death are all cited by the paper as possible factors behind the shootings.

"The Jonesboro killings are frightening because those ingredients are everywhere," the paper says.

The NYT welcomes a call by President Clinton for experts to conduct a study of what could be done to prevent anything similar happening again, but says the "unremarkable" qualities of the suspects in the case would make it difficult to find answers.

Parents must listen to their children, is the conclusion of The Boston Globe. They must keep the lines of communication open, recognize the competitive pressures which contemporary life places on children, and not let them "drift through the disturbance of adolescence alone."

The Los Angeles Times quotes experts who blame factors ranging from ready access to guns to a popular culture which glorifies violence as a way of solving problems.

Some have seen the killings in the broader social context of violence against women, since the teacher and four students killed were female, the paper says.

It quotes differing opinions on whether the killings were an isolated aberration or part of a new trend. But, it says, experts agree that the availability of guns is a crucial factor.

"In the old days, kids would walk away from a fight with a few bruises," says one commentator quoted by the LA Times. "Now it's a body count."

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