Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, March 27, 1998

Arkansas guns get
media blitz out of Africa

PRESIDENT Clinton must be bumming out in Africa. After all, the whole point of the trip was to get the media's mind off Monica Lewinsky and to focus on what a great president he is. Where better to stand tall and look presidential than on a continent where so many people are hunched over and ailing because of the twin curses of a vicious AIDS epidemic and perpetual factional warfare.

But Clinton once again has been robbed of his spotlight, first by Russian President Boris Yeltsin suddenly firing most of his cabinet and then the unlikely event of a couple of kids gunning down fellow students and teachers. It just adds to the irony that the tragic shooting took place in Clinton's home state of Arkansas, not far from where the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit will soon go to trial.

The shooting itself is just too sickening to contemplate. And it repeats a pattern of school-icide that has taken place in Mississippi, Kentucky and other southern states. The location of the shootings has all the anti-gun forces up in arms and asking what the hell is going on down in "cracker country" that leads children to gun down each other. I lived in cracker country and I'll tell you that it's no different from anywhere else except the people talk a bit slower and they get bitten by chiggers instead of -- actually, along with -- regular old mosquitoes. What makes the shootings shocking is not that it's taking place in the South, but that it involves what the country conceives of as "perfectly normal kids."

THIS is an insult to all the other children killing each other around the country in places like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. The implication being that, yeah, well, those kids belong to the Crips and the Bloods and they are expected to shoot each other. But kids in rural areas at predominantly white schools are not expected to go postal.

There are urban gang killings every single day but you don't see the media flocking to the doorsteps of apartments of South Central Los Angeles and camping out on the street where chalk lines in the form of dead bodies are part of the natural landscape. The FBI just released a report showing that an overwhelming majority of juvenile murders occurs in urban areas. But those killings don't spur a national debate on the need for gun control and the reform of laws relating to when young murderers should be tried as adults.

I don't understand this selective outrage. I guess it shows that the country can still be shocked but for all the wrong reasons.

So instead of television newscasts leading off with Clinton hanging out with Nelson Mandela -- the first time an American president has even bothered to go to South Africa -- we are treated to aerial views of some middle school in Arkansas and live scenes of kids being carted away in ambulances.

This isn't to say that what happened at that school in Arkansas is not worth news coverage. I just don't know if it's worth the media piling on. I mean, when the sheriff of the county has to hold a news conference -- which he did -- to warn the media swarm that if they keep trampling over private property they'll be arrested, maybe media coverage is a tad overblown.

I'm sure that Clinton feels horrible about the shootings. I'm cynical enough to think, however, that at some point, maybe while watching CNN in some South African hotel room by himself, Clinton is taking note that the school shooting not only blasted his sex scandal off the public radar but nearly his entire trip to Africa. I can just imagine him saying, "Well, hell, I could have stayed home."

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

or send E-mail to charley@nomayo.com or

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