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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
How can we ensure safety in schools?
Seventeen people have died in a shooting at a German school.
A 19-year-old expelled pupil killed fourteen teachers, a policewoman and two female pupils before turning the gun on himself.
This was the worst school massacre in Europe since the 1996 shooting in Dunblane, Scotland which also left eighteen people dead.
Following the Dunblane shooting, the UK Government introduced laws banning handguns, and in just two years over 160,000 weapons have been surrendered.
American researchers who analysed the nature of such incidents say shootings are not "impulsive" actions and are usually thoroughly prepared.
They say police can act before plans for violence escalate into action by checking for "advance warning" from students who might be planning attacks.
What measures should be taken to ensure safety in schools? Should Germany tighten its gun control laws?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Alexander Schmitz, NRW, Germany
I think that guns should be legal but licensing laws should be extremely strict.
All civilians should be banned from using guns.
The only people who should be permitted to carry guns are licensed security firms and members of the National security forces (policemen, army, etc).
What we see here is indicative of a Western culture. We are taught from day one that there are winners and losers. The issue is how we treat the losers. In western society it seems that we can "abuse" and denigrate those people who are less fortunate or different, or not quite as confident etc as ourselves. This lack of compassion from kids, parents, politicians, work colleagues etc. leads to the disenfranchised striking back like this. It is the same in the work place. What we need is not less guns or more guns but a change in society that reflects a more relaxed and compassionate way of thinking. Not the consumer driven society that Regan, Thatcher, Bush and Blair advocate.
I think that guns at school are necessary for self-defence
Americans that suggest arming law-abiding citizens need to remember that the individual that caused this mayhem was law-abiding, right up to the point he massacred his classmates. He went to a gun club and had a gun licence. Do Americans have a way to see into the future that I don't know about? The actions of this individual prove that guns are for people with poor self esteem. Anyone that wants a gun should be immediately denied access to them.
Germany has to forbid guns. We do not need them. That is the only way to give shootings no chance!
My condolences to the many victims of this horrific tragedy. However, SJ of Canada is absolutely correct. This issue is not only about gun control. A friend of mine who has ADD and recently completed his engineering degree in the US, once told me, "If I had lived in Germany, I'd be boxing shoes right now". Another German friend of mine is completing her PHd. here after being told as a youngster in Germany that "workers" children couldn't go to university. Germany has a no-second-chance selection process for university. You don't make the exams at the right time, you're out. Period. This student lost hope. After being handed his hat, he probably felt that he had nothing left to lose.
A true act of Evil.
Some people were born to be villains.
In any given age, there are those who will fall into darkness. The technology and cultures change with time, the Niches we see filled are constant.
I work at a High School in California, and I've seen firsthand that nothing has changed aside from politicians creating laws that are ineffective. What is evidence of an unhinged mind? Doing the same unsuccessful thing over and over hoping for a different outcome? Passing ever more gun laws have been proven to have no effect on school crime for they don't address a core reality. What did Columbine, Dunblane and the German school incident have in common? They all had lousy school security, all were an open door for criminals. Columbine had a lone police officer on campus, but these gestures are a useless (and expensive) deterrent, more for show.
To suggest a ban of firearms is not only irrational but also an invitation to the black market to grow. Illegal firearms are used in over 99.98% of gun-related crime in this country, and banning them deprives large numbers of law-abiding citizens of their sport. We don't see cricket/golf/fencing banned and murder can easily be committed with these weapons. Tight control of who can own firearms is to be welcomed but the risk of these crimes will always be inherent where society breeds discontent and isolation.
Guy Chapman, UK
Is there a way to make a school a really safe place? I'm a teacher at a German school, and yes, I'm afraid of what was going on in Erfurt on Friday happening again some day. In my opinion it's the way of treating pupils and of communicating with them and their parents, which could lead to understanding each other, even when there are problematic situations. Personally I don't think that being expelled from school was the only reason for that massacre!
There is nothing that we personally can do about school violence. Blaming it on heavy metal and violent video games does not help because then all we are doing is providing a scapegoat. We cannot blame it on the parents because, as a teenager, I find it is easy to just ignore my parents, and they do not know everything about me or if I am "troubled" or not.
Guns are designed for one thing only, and it is not protection. It is to harm and to kill. My mum was Gwen Mayor, the teacher killed in the Dunblane massacre. I think it is incredibly sad how complacent society has become. People think it will never happen to them. It happened to me, my family and my community. If there were no guns we wouldn't be thinking of using them for protection.
Being a teacher in Germany of English and German myself I would like to say only one thing to those who suggest to hand out guns to teachers: Keep your mouth shut! We just had a terrible shootout, and we do not any more!
Cecilia Pape, Germany
'Other fellow students could only point to his love of heavy metal music and a taste for violent video games as possible indications of darker traits behind a normal exterior'
The issue is not about guns. It's about 'violence in, violence out (VIVO)'. Society should protect kids from the merchants of violence as entertainment.
It all goes down to the parents. Let's take a look at the two Columbine shooters and the recent DeAnza guy...they both built arsenals of amazing sizes, and they did it without anyone knowing, and without their parents finding out. I enjoy my privacy at home, but that privacy does have limits. If my door were to be padlocked and I would come home with large bags of stuff at odd hours and lug them into my room...well, wouldn't you be suspicious?
To confine this debate to gun control is missing the big picture. Weapons have been around for a long time yet juvenile massacres seem to be a recent development. Disgruntled children are not a new thing either.
What is recent however, is the culture of extreme violence, as conveyed but not necessarily caused by movies, TV series and, of course, computer games. Is the age of the teenage killing spree not connected to the age of virtual death match?
As long as society (the law) forces people (kids) to do something they do not wish to do (go to school), they will retaliate. If school were not compulsory, this would not be... a talking point.
Yes, gun control laws should be tightened, but what needs to be revised is the moral and ethical fibre of society that breeds and sensationalises such behaviour. Education and role models must change and the sanctity of human lives imbued. This will lessen, but not eliminate such occurrences because human beings are a violent lot and civilisation is but skin deep.
Prakash Chandra, India
I am a teacher in America and I know how long-range these appalling acts are. In the US, social scientists are trying to discover what makes students commit these crimes and they are finding most have been teenagers who had been desperately unhappy for long periods of time, had few friends, kept to themselves, and who also were bullied and picked on by other kids. It's also interesting to note that these kids left behind clues of one kind or another and it's important for parents, teachers, guidance counsellors, and friends to watch for these clues and report kids at risk. It may mean the difference of life and death for so many in this difficult day and age.
If you want 100% safety then have metal detectors and armed guards at entrances. This however raises questions of expense, inconvenience and students living in a climate of fear. Germany doesn't need to tighten gun control laws. Laws restrain citizens, not criminals. Those who are ready to commit murder are hardly likely to balk at stealing firearms. Or manufacturing other lethal devices.
Chris B, England
Arm teachers? (Tom Curran) Here in the UK, the police are not even armed and when some special policemen are armed and use it to shoot someone, they are fired and charged with murder.
Teachers with guns? They can't even use a water pistol. They don't have the intelligence.
The only way to stop this thing happening in schools is not to allow pupils with unacceptable social behaviour in schools. Full stop. It is unfair to pupils who want to learn. But the do-gooders will say it is unfair to those bad pupils. No one can win.
To Tom Curran, USA: Good idea! Maybe we in Europe should flood ourselves with cheap, legal handguns like the USA and make school massacres a regular occurrence like the USA
How do countries protect themselves from others who build atomic bombs? They also build them, don't they? This is called a deterrent. Guess what? The same idea works with small arms. If the teachers were armed, this killer could have been stopped before he did so much damage.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this horrible tragedy. If a motivated individual wants to commit violent acts of any sort, little can truly stop them, but we can deter them. Some of these methods are in place in US schools. Everything from metal detectors to dedicated police officers being present during school hours. Nothing can totally eliminate these occurrences, but we can make it harder for those who may be contemplating it.
Look at all society has to offer kids today: a steady supply of hate-filled music and television. Put a stop to that and you will see violence diminish. For those that would like to blame guns, do a little research and see how many times this sort of thing happened fifty years ago. Guns were available then as well. Look at what's changed; we let people spew what they want from television and radio. Control that and not guns.
George Mealor, US
I cannot believe some of the comments here suggesting gun laws be relaxed, making it easier for the average Joe to arm themselves (for protection of course). More guns in circulation just makes it easier for criminals to arm themselves, not to mention making criminals out of those who think they can get away with something because they own a gun. The only solution is a total ban of firearms. Why do the public need them anyway? The police are here to protect us and even they don't need guns in the UK. The argument of protection is a pretty flimsy one - seems more like the last cry of those who simply enjoy weapons. Let's not go down the slippery slope of a gun in everyone's pocket, and armed guards in schools - would that make you feel safer? I know I wouldn't.
No guns: no shooting.
I was in junior high school when the Columbine attack was occuring and I remember every detail vividly. From this experience, I have concluded that the only thing that can stop school shootings is the parents of the kids. They need to be better influences on their kids and have more control. Gun laws won't stop anything: drugs are illegal but somehow they never stop drug use.
Ultimately, the parents are the only ones who can prevent these tragedies.
To Andrew Smith in Scotland and all the others proposing banning guns: wake up. Kids won't be bringing guns to school protect themselves. That idea is childish at best. Furthermore, I contend that most of the viewpoints on this site have been pushing the gun control agenda. Those of us who know better have moved to counter your baseless arguments. Look at your own country where guns are illegal. Crime is on the rise because those who follow the law don't have guns while those who already have guns are criminals anyway. Look at Australia. Guns are illegal there, crime shot through the roof.
Predictably a number of our American friends use this tragedy to push their anti-gun control agenda. Do you really want to live in a world where schoolchildren are armed for protection? Do you?
My deepest condolences to those in Germany.
Guards armed with automatic rifles would be a start, for I don't think any disgruntled child would be insane enough to attempt to attack a school that's guarded by 30 people with AK47s.
Tightening gun control laws is just a symbolic and simplistic solution to please those social activists. The subtle part of the problem is that children are bombarded with news of violence and terrorism around the world.
My deepest sorrow and tears to those who've directly lost their closest friends and loved ones. We cannot stand cold and far from these horrible mssacres. We should take care of our EU. Immediately. Before it is too late.
Get rid of all guns including those used for hunting.
Professor Mukhtar Ai Naqvi, USA
The sad fact is that we cannot ensure safety in schools, or anywhere else for that matter. If a disturbed person is determined to get hold of a gun and use it to kill people they can do it in Germany, the US or Scotland. It doesn't seem to matter how strict gun laws are.
To my fellow Americans who have expressed concern: the school has a web site. I have sent an e-mail (in English, unfortunately as I do not speak German), relaying my condolences. At the risk of sounding like goody-two-shoes, I would suggest you do the same. The German people have had a hard couple of months and a little support might help these kids.
Anthony Stephenson, Texas, USA
No law will ever prevent criminals from obtaining and abusing guns. Gun control simply prevents the 99% of the population that is law-abiding from protecting themselves. The best way to end school shootings quickly (and hijackings for that matter) is to arm and train even a small percent of law-abiding citizens. Americans who legally carry concealed handguns have a firearms safety record many times better than that of the police. Unless we want to live in a police state, we must take personal responsibility for our safety and our children's safety.
Sean B, Cincinnati, USA
I hope those in Germany see this. I live in Denver, where Columbine is, and I know the shock and horror something like this does to a town. My deepest sympathy goes out to the victims, the families, the school, and the community. Violence is tragic and just not understandable. It will be a long time before the families and community can heal and I know that everyone who has ever been touched by something like this is sincerely praying for them. I am so sorry for their loss.
The incident in question proves beyond any reasonable doubt that US does not have a franchise on violence and that preponderance of guns has little to do with severity of the crimes. Germany has one of the strictest gun laws in the world. And what?
Tom Byrne, US
My heart and prayers go out to the families of the victims of the German massacre. For so long, the US was blamed for being the only country with school violence, but that obviously is not true. This is the fourth school attack in Germany, three involving guns and the other involving a knife. In recent years, Japan and Canada have also seen school violence. Last year in Japan, a man killed eight small children in a grade school with a knife. What can be done to keep kids all over the world safe in their schools? I don't know. However I do know that most of schools in the world never experience violence like this.
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