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People and Politics Forum 13. 03. 2009

"What can policymakers do to deter killing sprees?"

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Killing Spree in Winnenden – Can Politicians Protect our Children?

Wednesday’s shooting rampage in Winnenden in south western Germany has shocked the country and unleashed a wave of sympathy for the victims. A seemingly normal young man stormed his former school and opened fire on students and teachers, killing 15 people before shooting himself. Politicians, including Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, were "deeply shaken," The incident has also re-ignited the debate over how to prevent such attacks. For this is the third time in seven years that an adolescent has gone on the rampage with a gun in a German school. Points of discussion include strengthening gun laws, the introduction of cameras and guards in schools and so-called "parenting partnerships," through which parents can help head off conflicts before they escalate. But what can politicians actually do to prevent such killing sprees – or are they simply powerless to stop them?

Our Question is:

"What can policymakers do to deter killing sprees?"

Herbert Fuchs from Finland believes in arming teachers:

"A policy of putting a policemen in every school may not be feasible, but a teacher who feels unsafe should have easy access to a weapon. This would send a clear message to a potentially violent student that the teacher will not stand by helplessly while someone shoots up his students."

Hannelore Krause, Germany, does not think much of the proposed gun legislation:

"I see a social problem behind this tragedy. The media’s celebration of violence must be curbed and we should forbid the glorification of violence in films. Parents should listen more carefully to their children and teach them values. Parents should also take more control over what their children do in their bedrooms and in their free time. This would help prevent, to some degree, drug and alcohol abuse. Rather than lavishing money upon their children, parents should show them more attention and affection. Policy makers will have to do more about gun legislation. But some proposals, such as a ban on firearms, surprise security checks or the central storage of weapons at gun clubs or elsewhere will not reduce the level of danger in such cases. Let’s face it, these shooting sprees are perpetrated by kids from nice, middle class families."

Charles Smyth, UK, sees little sense in further legislation but calls for personal and parental responsibility:

"In the US, where this type of incident is more common, an effective measures that have been taken range from an outright ban on guns, to having teachers or security personnel carry guns, so that they can react and/or act as deterrent, since potential killers would know that they will risk an armed response. This, however, assumes the killer is acting rationally, which is unlikely if they intend to attack a school. As for Germany's policy makers, the first thing to acknowledge is that the guilt lies with the perpetrator and not society. And the second thing to acknowledge is that no matter what they do, guns or no guns, those bent on going on a killing spree, will always find a way to carry it out. A determined killer can kill scores of armed just with a knife. As for Winnenden, the father is liable, as he acted carelessly over his guns and ammunition, although he was aware of his son's mental condition. Policy makers cannot do it all."

Christiane Ullmann from Canada is also against a legislated panacea:

"Legislation alone will not solve the problem. This is a problem within our society that requires us to communicate more with our youth and to better integrate them better. At present, they live outside of society in a virtual world. What does the so-called normal life have to offer a young person these days?"

In Thailand, Theo Pitsch sends a prudent warning against turning the murderers into heroes:

"These idiots are driven by a craving for recognition. They think: ‘I’m going to prove to you all what I am capable of’. If we would properly publicize these killers for who they really are, like the "idiot from Winnenden" or the "moron from Erfurt", we might discourage others from following in their footsteps. Nobody would want to be remembered this way. So let’s just call them "idiots" to ensure that no potential offender is misguided into believing that he would become a hero through such actions."

Venezuela’s Martin Burmeister wants everyone to keep an eye on potentially wayward kids:

"Politicians should appeal to the public and use the media to make sure we all remain vigilant, and keep an eye out for indications that any person –especially a young person- is considering perpetrating a violent act. Prohibitions notwithstanding, those who play video games should be watched more closely."

From Brazil, Michael Kurt Stanek has responded to a cotribution be René Junghans:

"I agree with Mr. Junghans in Brazil: The main problem in this case is the family. If both parents work, nobody is there to look after the needs of the children. There are more divorces as well. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, this kind of thing happened rarely. That’s why some kids are snapping."

Lee Davis in the USA warns:

"Lawmakers are limited as to what they can do about student killing sprees. I think the best way to deal with this, would be to train teachers to spot students, who may resort to violence, then provide funding for counseling."

Frequent contributor and poet, Erwin Scholz from Costa Rica, wonders if new laws will help:

"When such an act -such tragedy,

triggers hot debate on policy,

what can laws prevent -what to do,

when even the parents have no clue?"

René Junghans of Brazil lamented that no one noticed the warning signs:

"The source of rising violence in young people is the excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol and aggressive video games, which promote beating people up and murder as a pastime. It’s about time that politicians worked to strengthen laws ... But in the face of these problems, one should never forget that many young people flip out because they enjoy little parental guidance or love, receive no moral support and have no one with whom they can talk about their problems. So they either search for a sense of belonging in a group, or in this recent case, shut themselves out and withdraw into their own frustrations. And then it all culminates in an emotional explosion. Unfortunately, the result is sometimes awful. In this case, the parents have failed miserably. They should have noticed that their child had serious problems that damaged his psyche and led to this terrible end ... This shooting spree was truly an unheard cry for help from a lost soul who no one understood to help. Does no one in Germany notice how our children are doing?"

Dorothea Well, Ghana, said politicians have a duty to protect their citizens:

"First and foremost, it must be said: Policymakers can do a lot to prevent shooting sprees! It’s something they must do, even, because they have the unconditional obligation to protect the lives of their citizens. That’s why people pay taxes in the first place! Shooting sprees cause an enormous amount of public damage. So politicians shouldn’t just make it their job to monitor money and the economy; on the contrary, they must have their own people on their radar first and foremost. What good does it do to strengthen gun-control laws when they can be so easily circumvented? Those who come to commit such crimes don’t suddenly turn into killers at age 17 – rather, it is a process that starts much earlier. Politicians must support psychological awareness in terms of stronger psychological counseling in the family, school and workplace, and most of all, they must take the development of psychological problems that begin in childhood seriously. That is something that Germany suffers from. All too often, psychological problems are swept under the rug and not taken seriously! It is here that policymakers must intervene and invest – absolutely! Besides that, it wouldn’t be so terrible if guards were posted at the doors of our German schools (as is common in other countries). Politicians must be called upon to improve the atmosphere in Germany and to seriously think about what changes they can employ to take the lives of their citizens and their protection seriously."

Martin Mohr from Thailand thinks parents and the political culture are to blame:

Can politicians work to prevent such killing sprees – or are they simply powerless to stop them? In a country where people even at school age are forced to comply with economic requirements and to be submissive and efficient, it’s no wonder that some can’t keep up. When unstable people are isolated from their peers, ignored, teased and mobbed, they’ll seek recognition elsewhere. And of course, they’ll come to the wrong conclusions. When the parents don’t realize what’s happening and offer nothing at home outside of "achievement, achievement, achievement," a weapons closet and a gun club, it’s no wonder that a young man would go berserk. In a country where Hartmut Mehdorn is allowed to remain head of Deutsche Bahn, where billions go to lobbyists, but where the classrooms are overcrowded, the teaching staff over-stretched and school psychologists are being cut back, it’s no wonder that this kettle would explode under pressure. Rather, it’s more astounding that this type of thing so seldom happens."

Horacio Velasco, Philippinen:

"The behavior of these people who commit killing sprees appear to resemble threshold conditions in nonlinear dynamics in which even infinitesimal variations in system state, in the presence of an appropriate amplifying environment, can lead to catastrophic or nonlinear discontinuities in system behavior. Suffice it to say in this case, if you want to avoid or minimize killing sprees, then you ought to minimize the incidence of an amplifying environment: minimize the ready availability to guns in the inappropriate contexts."

The editorial staff of ‘People and Politics’ reserves the right to shorten letters received.