Only parents can keep guns from children

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 14, 2010

It doesn’t seem too much to ask of parents that their children not have access to guns.

Every day, it seems, there’s a story from Vicksburg or some other town in Mississippi or Louisiana about a child discovered to have a firearm in a classroom, in a hallway or on a bus. In the most recent local incident, Sheriff Martin Pace said a 13-year-old girl apparently got into a tiff with someone else on a bus and used a cell phone (also prohibited to students) to call ahead and have a 17-year-old meet her at the bus stop with a weapon so she could settle the score. No shots were fired. The teens have been criminally charged, as has the bus driver who is accused of knowing about the gun and failing to report the incident as required.

Through the years there have been many attempts to hold parents liable for the actions of their children. This has been difficult, if a criminal sanction was called for, because the U.S. Constitution holds that we can be criminally liable only for our actions, not the actions of others, including our children.

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A remedy could be to make it a crime to fail to keep a child from obtaining a dangerous weapon. Then it would be the parent’s act, not the child’s, that would result in punishment. A jury could acquit any parent shown to have at least made an effort.

There have also been attempts to make parents civilly liable, in other words to pay financial compensation for acts of vandalism, or, perhaps, the cost of investigating a gun-possession case. A problem there is that many of these children are from poor families. Imposing all the fines in the world is meaningless to people who have no means or no intention of paying them.

We pity school officials here and elsewhere who are supposed to be in the business of educating, not preventing mayhem.

And we’re disgusted over how many parents profess to love and adore their children, yet can’t do something as simple as assure they aren’t packing guns.

The situation is serious and deteriorating. The schools can’t fix it and the police can’t fix it. Parents could, if they would, and they must be given some incentive to do so.