Clinton discusses school violence with high schoolers
April 22, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 22) -- As lawmakers and Americans alike try to figure out how to prevent tragedies like Tuesday's shootings at a suburban Denver high school, President Bill Clinton joined a group of high school students in Virginia Thursday for a roundtable conversation on school violence.
"On balance, our schools are still the safest place our kids can be," the president reassured students at T.C. Williams High School.
Acknowledging that there is only so much the federal government can do to prevent such incidents of violence, Clinton solicited opinions from students about their safety concerns and solutions to the continuing problem of crime in the schools.
The president said he was struck by reports that the two alleged gunmen, seniors at Littleton, Colorado's Columbine High School, targeted in particular blacks and hispanics as well as jocks. The boys were both considered outcasts at the school and their group of friends, dubbed the "Trenchcoat Mafia," had been teased by student athletes at the school.
Clinton said: "We don't know all the facts about what happened in Littleton, but one of the things that have come out of this that's really made an impression on me is that the young men who were involved in this horrible act apparently felt that they were subject to ridicule and ostracism and they were kind of social outcasts at the school. But their reaction to it was to find someone else to look down on."
"They had the wrong reaction to the fact that they were dissed. But everybody gets dissed at some point or another, even the president," he continued.
The students, many of whom worked in the school's conflict resolution program, touted the benefits of peer mediation as a way for people to work out their differences in a respectful atmosphere.
Another student pointed out that it was fairly easy for kids to get a hold of guns. Until Thursday, the president was careful not to link the touchy issue of gun control with the Littleton shootings.
But he said it was true that access to weapons was greater in the United States than anywhere else in the world, and pledged to continue to work for legislation that would help keep guns out of the wrong hands.
"We have a culture of having a right to own weapons and a right to use them and a big hunting culture. I grew up in it, participated in it, and enjoyed it very much.
"But I have -- every little thing I have tried to do from passing the Brady Bill to passing the assault weapons ban all of these things have been met with violent opposition as if I was trying to destroy the American way of life. And all I'm trying to do is keep more people alive," Clinton said.
The president also wondered if the high level of violence seen in television shows and movies, as well as video games, played a role: "We have to acknowledge ... that we do have more violence among younger people in America than other cultures."
Several of the students cautioned against blaming the mass media and said people must instead take personal responsibility for their actions.
The president moved a work session with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to make room on his schedule to visit the norther Virginia high school.
Clinton is planning to visit Littleton, though when that trip will take place is unclear. Aides were looking at the president's schedule next week for a possible visit with the students, parents and teachers of the suburban Denver community.
"The president wants to do what's best for the local community," Lockhart said. "We are especially sensitive to not causing any disruption or distraction to the ongoing efforts there."
In the past the president has traveled to communities hit by tragedy like Oklahoma City after the 1995 bombing and in June 1998 to Oregon's Thurston High, the last school shooting to burst into national headlines.
Thursday, April 22, 1999
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