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Guns shouldnt be available to young people

Shootings at school campuses on both sides of the country in the past 10 days could not have turned out more differently. And collectively, they could not have generated a bigger chill in the minds and hearts of parents everywhere.

Close to home, in Gresham, a 15-year-old boy on April 10 fired two rifle shots through windows at Springwater Trail High School, injuring 10 students with flying glass and metal and irreversibly scarring his own life.

A student at Virginia Tech University started the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history Monday, killing at least 32 students and faculty and injuring 15 more before killing himself.

A motive for the Springwater Trail shooting was revealed quickly. Court records portray Chad Escobedo as so unhappy at home and school that he opened fire on a teacher who had called his parents to report problems at school.

While students and faculty literally dodged the bullet at Springwater Trail, such was not the case in Blacksburg, Va., where the carnage was overwhelming. Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a South Korean and senior English major who lived on campus, was considered the only shooter. He was armed with two pistols and multiple clips of ammunition.

Law enforcement officials said the massacre surpassed the 24 people killed in Killeen, Texas in 1991. In that attack, George Hennard drove his pickup into a restaurant and shot 23 people to death before killing himself.

The Springwater Trail incident called to mind the tragedy at Springfield's Thurston High School in May 1998 when 15-year-old Kip Kinkel went on a rampage, killing his parents and two students before injuring 25 others.

While Gresham's outcome was vastly different from the shooting in Springfield, the two cases have some surface similarities, including a boy angry with his parents and the availability of firearms.

The Oregon shootings contrast darkly with the events at Virginia Tech.

Monday's incident is the worst school shooting since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where two students killed 13 people before turning their guns on themselves - eight years ago this week.

Despite the events of this week, we would like to believe that such tragedies are waning because school officials throughout the nation have become more adept at detecting signs of youths bent on destruction.

And indeed, the education system has changed in response to previous shooting sprees. Many high school administrators and teachers today have undergone special training around the school-shooting issue. They are more aware of the potential for such violence, and they are better at identifying the warning signals. All that work may have reduced the number of shootings, but there are other factors at play as well.

Publicity is one such influence. Highly impressionable young people are prone to copycat behavior, which means all area school districts should be on alert for the next few months.

According to research done by the U.S. Secret Service, most school attackers make plans and then tell others - a friend, classmate or sibling. Another common thread is easy access to guns. In nearly two-thirds of such incidents, the shooter obtains his gun at home or from a relative. Bullying also can be a factor that pushes some young people to retaliate.

Educators already know about these patterns in school attacks. But they could use the help of parents, students and others in preventing eruptions of this type of terror.

Young people must be encouraged to step forward with troubling information. They must be reminded that their safety is the most important thing - not some code of silence that exists between them and their classmates.

Parents also must be attentive to kids' behavior. Depression is one common symptom of a young person on the edge.

Perhaps the single most significant step that adults can take to reduce the odds of another school shooting is to lock guns away in a place that's inaccessible to young people.

'Schools should be places of safety, sanctuary and learning,' President Bush said Monday. 'When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom in every American community.'

The impact was serious during both of the recent shooting incidents. It goes without saying that this was especially the case in Blacksburg. Stakeholders - students, educators, parents and police - must do what they can to try to prevent more shootings in the future.

A tall order?

You bet.

But what are the alternatives?