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The Podium

Making schools safer and law-abiding sex offenders

MAKING SCHOOLS SAFER

In our quest to reduce school murder, we ought to be sure that our efforts can be generalized beyond the most recent incident. Rampage killers usually do not target first-graders, as was the situation at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The last episode of a massacre at an elementary school occurred in January 1989, when a 22-year-old man shot to death five children on the playground of Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, Calif.

Since then, the overwhelming majority of school rampages have been perpetrated by middle- and high-school students who — having being bullied, humiliated, or ignored on a daily basis — target their classmates. They feel like pariahs or outcasts and decide to get even with the entire school or community . . .

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If we want to reduce the prevalence of school rampages, we should also reduce the prevalence of bullying, and it should start in the elementary-school years, when bullying peaks. Most states, including Massachusetts, now have anti-bullying statutes, but many of those laws are less than effective. Schools should be held responsible for allowing bullying to continue unabated.

JACK LEVIN

Professor of sociology and criminology

at Northeastern University

and co-author of “Extreme Killing”

Although we have made considerable progress in reducing gun deaths in the United States over the past decade, firearms still account for a high proportion of childhood deaths in the United States; only motor-vehicle crashes cause more injury deaths. The firearms death rate in the United States is more than 10 times higher than in other industrialized countries.

Research has shown that programs aimed at teaching children and adolescents about gun safety don’t work; the lessons taught simply can’t overcome the natural curiosity of children or the impulsiveness of teenagers. The only effective strategies are those that limit childhood access to guns. Simply put, the safest home for children and adolescents is a home without guns. In homes with guns, the simple precaution of keeping guns locked and unloaded, with ammunition locked separately, saves lives . . .

Here are some simple steps that we as a nation can take to help protect our children:

1. Renew the assault-weapons ban that expired almost a decade ago.

2. Restrict access to guns and ammunition by strengthening background-check procedures and closing gun-show and Internet-sales loopholes.

3. Require that weapons always be stored locked and unloaded.

4. Free the federal public-health agencies from political pressures that have prevented us from developing a public-health approach to firearms injuries and deaths.

ROBERT SEGE

Doctor at Boston Medical Center

and co-author of the national American

Academy of Pediatrics policy statement

JOHN O’REILLY

Doctor at Baystate Medical Center

and president of the Massachusetts chapter

of the American Academy of Pediatrics

DON’T PUNISH LAW-ABIDING SEX OFFENDERS

The recent arrest of John Burbine, a Level 1 registered sex offender charged with molesting 13 babies and toddlers, has understandably ignited the emotions of Massachusetts residents . . .

What should not happen is retribution against the entire population of law-abiding registered sex offenders residing in the state, most of whom are just focused on rebuilding their lives as citizens and providers for their families. Punish the offender, not the entire offender group.

The recent announcement by House Speaker Robert DeLeo that he is going to re-examine stalled sex-offender legislation . . . suggests that an outbreak of panic might strike Beacon Hill . . .

It is easy to understand the emotional appeal of the “if it just saves one child” argument, but basing public policy on the rare horrific crime committed by one registered sex offender, while ignoring the extensive research of the entire former sex offender population, does not result in a fair and reasoned criminal justice system.

SHANA ROWAN

Executive director of USA FAIR

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