Our Kids Have Guns: Now What Do We Do About It?

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FRED GREAVES/AP

The latest school shooting: Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, Calif.

Here's a fun fact to get your blood pumping: One in five teenage boys admits to taking a weapon (gun or knife) to school with him at least once in the past 12 months.

And that's not all: According to a study released Monday by the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics, almost half of all high school students said they could get a gun if they wanted to.

Perhaps those numbers don't carry the kind of shock value they might have 10 years ago, when denizens of America's comfortable middle-class communities could still pretend gun violence only happened in urban (read: black and Hispanic) schools.

But even in the wake of Columbine and Santee, the figures are chilling, if only because they reinforce every parent's worst fears about life at today's high schools. Those fears are, of course, for the most part fabricated out of the media's breathless, round-the-clock coverage of school shooting sprees. In fact, government records show that gun violence at schools is actually down 65 percent from the 1970s — but these days, the violence gets better coverage. It's spreading out of the inner city and into the "I never thought it would happen here" confines of Middle America. That, America has decided, makes violence newsworthy.

What's a country to do?

As usual, even as Americans profess shock and dismay over the latest figures, no one seems to have any idea what to do about the proliferation of guns into our schools. Unexpectedly, however, if you ask for input from the spokespeople of the nationís staunchest gun-rights and gun-control organizations, there's more unanimity than conflict. Everyone, it seems, is in favor of teaching kids how to deal with problems that come up at school — bullying, fistfights, cliques — without resorting to violence.

When it comes to the issues of guns themselves, of course, there is significant divergence. In an interview on Monday with TIME.com, the National Rifle Association's Trish Gregory contended that regulating guns will not lower the incidence of firearm deaths in schools. There is much more to gun violence than guns, she says. Gregory uses catchphrases like "moral decline" and "parental responsibility" to emphasize the vast range of factors she says contribute to teenage gun violence.

Handgun Control's Nancy Hwa, on the other hand, insists that until America addresses access to guns, the school shootings will continue. Hwa agreed that there are larger issues at play than simply having access to firearms. But, she said, "While we agree that you should look at and try to solve the root causes of teen gun crimes, until we do figure out those complex sociological or psychological problems the least we can do is keep guns out of kids' hands."

And this, of course, is the moment of departure for one of the nation's most contentious debates. As middle-American school shootings continue to dominate our headlines, we'll hear more about personal responsibility, gun control and the nation's moral decline. But at the heart of the issue, as is made painfully clear by the Josephson Institute study, there is a simple truth: Kids have access to guns, and they bring those guns to school.

There is also a not-so-simple dilemma: Do we accept the responsibility of keeping guns away from kids or do we teach kids how to use guns responsibly?