Imagine holding the Columbine shootings -- and some of its controversies -- up to a mirror. Can gun control prevent school shootings? Can shutting out news of school attacks help prevent them?
Showing us that mirror is what the New York Times did today with its story on school attacks in China.
The Times reports, "At least 17 people have been killed -- mostly children -- and dozens injured in the series of attacks, which began in March. In each case, a middle-aged man acting alone set upon children with knives or tools."
Which brings up the issue of gun control and the perennial question of whether stricter controls could prevent school shootings. Now, I do not mean to take sides on the issue, but here would seem to be an interesting case study. "Shooting rampages are rare in China," the Times says. "It is difficult to buy guns of any kind here. Sharp objects and tools are the weapons of choice for homicides."
And so it would seem that if someone is interested in rampage, they will get the weapon at hand. I would also point out that while it would seem guns would generally cause more deaths, the number killed in the latest attack seems staggering: "A man with a kitchen cleaver rampaged through a kindergarten in rural northern China on Wednesday, and state media said he hacked to death seven children and two adults before returning home and killing himself," according to The Times.
The suicide issue is also important. As I point out in my book Columbine: A True Crime Story, suicide is an undercurrent in school shootings. The Columbine killers were unusually successful in that they killed themselves, yet other shooters who have been captured express a desire to have died in the course their rampage.
The Times reports that the Chinese attacks have been covered in the media, although after the first stories, "the government has been carefully censoring subsequent stories, perhaps to prevent other copycat murders, or perhaps to play down any suggestion of dysfunction within Chinese society."
One Chinese newspaper fought back and editorialized, "It is undeniable that the media's coverage on these incidents of bloodshed may 'inspire' potential killers, but it will educate more people by raising awareness of self-protection and spur the authorities, and this is the role that media should play in the society."
Given the debate over bullying at Columbine, there is another interesting reference in The Times China piece. It comes from the same newspaper editorial that questioned the censorship:
"On Wednesday, Dahe Bao, a newspaper in Henan Province, quickly posted on the Internet a fiery editorial that pointed to misbehavior by government officials as the root cause of the problem.
"'After being treated unfairly or being bullied by the authorities, and unable to take revenge on those government departments that are safeguarded by state security forces, killers have to let out their hatred and anger on weaker people, and campuses have become the first choice,' said the editorial, signed by a writer named Shi Chuan."