04.21.99

Statement of Sen. Charles Schumer Response to the Shootings at Columbine High School April 21, 1999

Thank you Senator Kennedy for yielding me this time. This afternoon we are talking about education legislation and today all of our thoughts and prayers are about one school in Littleton, Colorado.

Yesterday's massacre is all too familiar. It is America's recurring nightmare. It leaves us shocked and numb. It takes away our innocence. It makes children afraid to go to their school. This morning I had breakfast with my daughters I do that every day before they go to school usually it's routine but today the conversation was a little different for me and my girls.

And as we sit transfixed to our television sets praying for those caught in the crossfire and hoping for an explanation to the carnage, we hear the same phrases we heard in Pearl, Springfield, Jonesboro, and Paducah.

"This is a quiet town. Nothing like this happens here. We don't have crime problems in this town. It didn't seem real. This is a good school. Could it have been prevented? How could someone be so distraught to murder and yet no one in authority knew? How did they get a gun? What can we do?"

The same words each time. And each time there is a new tragedy we act as if this will be the last in a list of school shootings. But it is not the last. As sad and as horrible as it seems this will definitely not be the last time we tune in to our television sets to see children fleeing from their schools.

I have taken the floor today to ask that we in the Congress make a concerted, comprehensive attempt to address school shootings. And I wanted today to list some ideas, many of which have already been discussed some of which haven't, which I hope we can agree to work on and come up with some solutions that may make a difference.  
One issue is counseling: Teenagers, since time began, have struggled with personal and psychological problems. The difference today is that through computer fantasy worlds and lethal guns and explosives, the damage that a disturbed boy can do today is a thousand times worse than it was when we were kids.

Some schools are very good at counseling, Most are not. We need to help schools get better at counseling. We need the federal government to help share information among schools so that good schools can teach those schools not doing very well how to counsel better.

There are too many young boys and girls with troubles and too few welltrained people to handle them.

Second, the people who best knew that there were troubled kids at Columbine high were the students at the school. Students need to be encouraged to confidentially identify to school psychologists and counselors those in school who are exhibiting dangerous behavior and who need help. It is usually not in the nature of a teenager to approach an authority figure to say someone in class is doing something strange, but it is not impossible to change that. If they know that they are helping someone, kids will answer the call.

Then there is the issue of hate groups. It is shocking that a large number of students in Littleton knew that yesterday was Hitler's birthday. That is because, this group of socalled "goths" idolize and proselytize about Hitler. But school authorities had no idea that there were those who worship Hitler in the school. We have to exchange information about hate groups and be far more vigilant in condemning these activities. Principles, teachers and students must be encouraged to speak out. We have to get hate and white supremacy out of the schools.

And guns. We don't know yet how these two got their weapons. Did they take them from their parents? Did they steal them from a neighbor? Did they buy them off the internet? Did they get them at a gun show or a store? But we must accept that any solution has to involve a change in gun laws. A teenager can only do so much damage with his fists. There have always been troubled teenagers, but never before has there been so much ability to do so much damage.

We can work on trying to change teenagers but we must also work making sure that the instrumentality of death and destruction end up in their hands.

We have to close off the loopholes that allow kids to get a gun. We should ban unlicensed internet gun sales. The Senate should pass Senator Kennedy's Child Access Prevention law. The House should pass Congresswoman McCarthy's comprehensive legislation. And we need the president to lead us and help us in passing this type of legislation.

And we should also enlist the public and private sector to invest research money in "smart" guns that cannot be used by anyone other than the owner. This is an area where the military and the private sector can come together and do a lot of good and I will be talking more about that later in the week.

It's not enough to wring our hands and pray it won't happen again. We need to act. Let's resolve to work together to do what is necessary to protect our children.

Let us focus on better counseling, condemnation of hate groups in the schools, encouraging kids to come forward, and passing much better laws to prevent guns from getting in the hands of kids.

We are in mourning today. All of us are. When the tears are dry let's not pretend that this won't happen again.

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