School shootings cast shadow on Southern gun culture
March 26, 1998
In Jonesboro, Arkansas, citizens mourn the killings
Web posted at: 10:59 p.m. EST (0359 GMT)
JONESBORO, Arkansas (CNN) -- Fighting stereotypes has never been easy for Southerners. And with three school shootings happening in the past five months in rural areas of the South, the battle to overcome the gun-toting, white-trash image has become even harder.
For those who live in rural areas of the South, firearms are an accepted fact of life, for adults and for children. And despite what has happened in West Paducah, Kentucky, Pearl, Mississippi, and now Jonesboro, Arkansas, that isn't likely to change.
"This is a part of the country and a state where it's unusual if a child doesn't grow up going out with dad and granddad to hunt deer, using a very powerful weapon," says Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Police. "It's unusual sometimes not to see kids out in a group that might be wearing camouflage."
Sadler says that despite the tragedy, people in northeast Arkansas -- prime duck-hunting territory -- "enjoy their hunting and fishing privileges" and would not be willing to give them up.
Students still safer in rural America
Statistically speaking, rural America is still relatively safer for students than urban and suburban areas.
A 1994 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 9.5 percent of rural schools reported experiencing crimes, compared to 30 percent of suburban schools and 60 percent of city schools.
Still, FBI reports show that arrest rates in rural areas have been on the rise in the 1990s. And Doug Bachtel, a pickup-truck driving rural sociologist who studies the lifestyle of the Southern countryside, says what we are witnessing is the urbanization of small-town America.
"These problems used to be an urban, black, big city problem," said Bachtel of the University of Georgia. "But now they're coming home to haunt small-town rural America, which in Arkansas is primarily white."
A security officer checks students in an urban high school for weapons
One result of creeping urbanization is that parents don't play as strong of a role in public schools as they once did, Bachtel says. As a result, more and more rural kids feel isolated.
Bachtel also traces the rise in crime problems to the end of the days when people in small towns knew each other.
"[If] everybody knows your momma, it's hard to get away with something," said Bachtel. "Basically, what we have to do is go back to that sense of community that we had in many of these rural areas a long time ago."
Correspondent Rick Lockridge contributed to this report