Amollo: Cases of children with guns need special attention

Benson Amollo

Most issue-based surveys reveal jobs, immigration, health care, Social Security, foreign policy and federal budget deficit as the top key issues that will shape the 2012 presidential election. Indeed, without a doubt, anyone who lives in America would find this to be no revelation as it reflects the realities of everyday life and the most pressing of needs.

However, one issue whose absence among the top issues I find curious is that of gun control. I don’t know how to partake in this because guns and their control are not so big of an issue in the side of the world where I grew up; simply put, guns are illegal and individuals have no authority to hold guns — it is highly punishable. That said, that side of the world isn’t a better place just because of that; there are security run-ins and incidents that threaten public safety beyond imagination.

But when guns are in the hands of as naive persons as children, then despite the safety levels, we must seek caution; we must be bothered and we must talk. Recently, a 9-year-old boy reportedly carried his uncle’s .45-caliber pistol to a Washington elementary school, causing critical casualties to his classmates when the gun accidentally went off.

Not that guns and their control ought to consume the best of our dialogue, but with memories of Columbine and Virginia Tech, should we let this grave issue just slip by? Fortunately, the girl who was shot at the elementary school incident did not die and remains in intensive care. However, the boy — already the victim of a failed society — is becoming the victim of an unfair criminal system. The boy was paraded into court Friday for his bail hearing. It was granted at $50,000, but not after he cried through the hearing, barely able to read the charges against him — a failure of his education system.

The lopsided American law presumes a child older than 7 is well equipped to stand trial and bear responsibility for their actions, just in the same way as an adult. Except (thanks to statutory sovereignty) in Washington state, the decision as to whether a 9-year-old should own up to their responsibility of “guilt” is a matter for the courts to decide.

While the courts are supposed to deliberate on prosecutions, the intent, age and circumstances surrounding the case seem not to raise concerns in the public. For instance, what was the boy’s reason for having the gun on him that day? Some media reports indicate that he was upset at his family’s breakdown and was intending to run away that evening, taking the gun for protection. Yet, no one can realize how we’ve shown our children the last best hope for security when all seems lost: guns. Haven’t we just failed the very innocent children who should stay away from guns?

There have been several other cases of this nature. In February 2000, a 6-year-old boy took his uncle’s gun into school and deliberately shot a fellow student. The victim was 6-year-old Kayla Rolland, who was killed by a single bullet to her chest. The boy was not prosecuted for his actions as he was younger than 7, but his uncle served two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter as the gun was his. There were other factors at play; the boy was staying with his uncle because his mother had been evicted from her residence and was working through a failing “welfare-to-work” program that saw her working every hour under the sun for a horrendously low wage.

The gun dilemma in America is institutionally bred. We have a system that continually drags down pockets of society and fails them from within. How would such young children be able to get their hands on firearms, load them and take them into school? Defendants of the right to bear arms argue that guns should be held for self-defense and that having them locked in a gun case does no good. Gun control should be more than simply allowing people to leave loaded weapons lying around their house.

The Virginia Tech shooting in 2006 — the largest student massacre in U.S. history — claimed the lives of 32 students. All shot by a student diagnosed with serious mental illness, yet this wasn’t picked up on his background check and he was allowed to purchase guns and keep them on a university campus. Another deadly example of how it is all too easy to acquire a gun in America.

There has not been a year since Columbine that someone has not been shot in a U.S. school by a student, intentional or not.

Will this ever change? It is unlikely. Many Americans still refuse to talk about gun control. With missed opportunities combined with the current state of U.S. politics, this terrible trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.