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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 20:35 GMT 21:35 UK

World: Americas

The arming of US schools

Have guns made US schools dangerous places?

The Thurston High shooting by a 15-year old gunman is the latest in a series of mass attacks bringing mayhem to schools across the United States.

On the same day, 320km north in Washington state, a 15-year-old boy carrying a gun got on his school bus in the town of Onalaska.

Taking his girlfriend off the vehicle, then to his home, he shot himself in the head as the girl's father tried to break down the door. The 14-year-old girlfriend was not injured.

These mark the fourth and fifth shootings in or around schools this year in the United States. The spate of violence is forcing people to ask difficult questions about what leads a child to pick up a gun and kill another, and what is the appropriate action to take.

Nightmare at Thurston High
Pupil to face adult charges

What lessons from Jonesboro?

The latest shooting incidents come just two months after two boys opened fire on classmates at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, leaving the nation reeling.

[ image: The four schoolgirl victims of the Jonesboro shooting]
The four schoolgirl victims of the Jonesboro shooting
The boys, aged 11 and 13, killed four girls and one teacher, wounding nine more girls and one other teacher.

As the incident fuelled concern about a surge in youth violence, President Clinton instructed the Justice Department to look into the trend of school shootings.

Boys charged over school massacre

A tide of violence

Incidents of school shootings around the United States have left at least 16 people dead and more than 50 wounded in the past eight months.

Both the perpetrators and the victims of these crimes are usually just teenagers.

  • May 19: An 18-year-old at Lincoln County High School shot and killed a student in a school parking lot in Fayetteville, Tennessee, three days before they were to graduate, apparently because they had argued about a girl.

  • April 25: A 14-year-old boy opened fire at an eighth-grade graduation dance at Parker Middle School in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, killing a teacher and wounding two students and another teacher.

  • December 1, 1997: A 14-year-old boy shot and killed three girls at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky, while they took part in a prayer circle. Five others were wounded.

  • October 1, 1997: A 16-year-old stabbed and killed his mother, before going to school where he shot nine students. His ex-girlfriend and another girl at Pearl High School in Mississippi were killed. Seven other students were wounded and six boys, aged between 16 and 18, were charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

A study by the Department of Education in March found that as many as 10% of US schools serious incidents of violence in the year 1996-1997. In that year alone, schools recorded 11,000 armed assaults and 4,000 rapes or cases of sexual assault.

After the Thurston Hill tragedy on Thursday, White House spokesman Mike McCurry disputed suggestions that the shootings were only being addressed because they were happening more often in majority white, suburban schools, following years of shootings in which children from minority groups have been killed or injured at inner city schools.

Tide of violence at US schools

Right to arm vs right to life

The Jonesboro shooting reignited the raging debate on gun law in the US.

The right to "keep and bear arms" is enshrined in the second amendment of the US Constitution and is fiercely guarded by the powerful gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association.

But media reports began to identify frightening links between carrying guns and school violence, and called for new legislation on gun control.

Meanwhile, the parents of one of the Jonesboro victims launched a civil lawsuit against the gun manufacturers.

The debate raged on in cyberspace, with thousands of people e-mailing their views to BBC News online's Talking Point. But online, the vast majority of American respondents fiercely defended their rights to carry guns, telling the Brits to 'keep out of their business'.

The state of liberal gun laws
Arkansas shootings: US press asks why
Reaction to US handgun issue: Brits keep out

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