Guns, Politics, and Freedom
April 1, 1998

Exploiting Jonesboro

By F. Paul Valone


The following column appeared in the Charlotte Observer on April 1, 1998 under the title “Politicos exploit Jonesboro tragedy.”


The sad truth is that while you and I mourn the slaughter of innocents in Jonesboro, some politicos, if not quite glad about dead children, certainly stand ready to profit by the “opportunity.”


Exploiting school violence to ban guns isn’t novel: After killings in California, the “assault weapon” ban was pushed by advocates who freely admitted the guns are rarely used in homicides.  Expect more of the same.


USA TODAY, gleefully predicting that gun control advocates will broaden their scope to the hunting rifles used in the massacre, celebrates those ready to “once and for all erase the differentiating we do between a machine gun, a .38 special and a shotgun.”


Says Senator Frank Lautenberg (who’s never met a gun control he didn’t love), “If this tragedy doesn’t move Washington beyond tears and into action, I don’t know what will.”


But while “Washington” might see a mandate, the people of Jonesboro do not.  Westside Middle School principal Karen Curtner echoed sentiments in her community: “To me, the issue is not the weapons or the gun that was used.  That had nothing to do with what happened.  I think we have to look further than that.”


Consider a few things the media will avoid mentioning in the upcoming debate - like failure of the “Gun Free School Zones Act,” which prohibits guns almost a quarter mile away from schools, to prevent the killings.  In fact, carnage in a Pearl, Mississippi high school was stopped by its principal, who used a gun he kept in violation of the Act.


And what about mandatory trigger lock proposals which Handgun Control, Inc. guarantees will deter resolute youth from getting guns?  Says a Washington-based group that tracks child deaths, “Many of the weapons [stolen and used in Jonesboro] were locked up.  It’s how responsible gun owners are supposed to behave.  That we still had a tragedy goes against conventional thinking.”


But never mind that.  When gun control fails, the “solution” invariably advanced is more gun control; each new step depends on failure of the last.


You probably won’t hear the conclusions of University of Chicago researcher John Lott, author of the only comprehensive, unbiased, and controlled study of concealed handgun laws: “…it’s worth noting that the shootings occurred in one of the few places in Arkansas where possessing a gun is illegal.  Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi - the three states that have had deadly shootings in public schools over the past half year - all allow law-abiding adults to carry concealed handguns for self-protection except in public schools.”


Studying multiple victim shootings like that in Arkansas, Lott concludes, “…only one policy succeeded in reducing deaths and injuries from these shootings - allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns … When states passed [concealed handgun laws], the number of multiple-victim public shootings declined by 84%.  Deaths from these shootings plummeted on average by 90%, injuries by 82%.”


Instead, you will hear “experts” blame “Southern culture” for shootings in Jonesboro, Pearl, and Paducah.  “Kids are being raised in the South thinking guns are OK,” says sociologist Thomas Petee.  “The theory is there is a culture of violence in the South.”


But when Handgun Control president Bob Walker blames rural violence on “easy availability of guns,” he carefully ignores the fact that small town juvenile violence has always been - and continues to be - a minute fraction of that in cities like Chicago and Washington, where guns are restricted.


While gun ownership has always been higher in the South, recent school violence correlates far more closely with the introduction of urban realities like the Los Angeles “Bloods” gang that Jonesboro shooter Andrew Golden so admired.


As the media pack descends on rural Arkansas, residents understand that similar feeding frenzies in Pearl and Paducah probably inspired Golden and Mitchell Johnson to commit mayhem.  Describing what he calls “copycatting,” criminologist Thomas Blomberg says, “Right now there are kids out there taking this in.  They’re saying ‘man, those kids in Arkansas were 11 and 13 and they blew those people away and they were in camouflage, man.’”


Jonesboro has been twice infected: First by a virulent strain of urban, juvenile violence, then by media sensationalism that spreads violence in ways that make Typhoid Mary look like a rank amateur.  The grand irony?  Jonesboro’s “gun culture” takes the fall.


When it comes to the Beltway elite’s hunger for control over the little people, nothing whets the appetite like a heapin’ helpin’ of good ol’, down home, Southern, country, carnage.