Statistically, our schools are safe. Students are safer there than anywhere else, including their homes.

Nonetheless, the sporadic spasms of violence — shootings in four states in the past two weeks — are such a shock to the social fabric and the national sense of safety that the authorities feel compelled to do something, if only to convene a conference.

Thus, this past week the president and first lady appeared at a hastily put together White House Conference on School Safety held in a well-to-do suburb known for some of the capital area’s best and safest schools before a screened, invitation-only audience, no Democrats or administration critics, and certainly no gun-control advocates.

Reporters noted that President Bush got through the hour-long conference without mentioning the word “guns” and that the first lady, attorney general and secretary of education mentioned them only in passing.

In a curious way, these adult post-mortems tend to ascribe some of the root cause, if not the students directly, at least to the culture they live in _ violent movies, music and videogames; inadequate parental supervision; a lack of respect for adults; little religious presence in their lives.

The instant case for this conference was the shooting, execution-style, of 10 young Amish girls in Pennsylvania, five of them fatally. These were the daughters of close-knit, pacifist, religiously devout families, and having no electricity violent rap music and videogames was not a problem.

Maybe these shootings were an unpreventable act of evil. But any serious discussion of school safety requires raising the question of whether and how a tormented and suicidal individual like Charles Carl Roberts should come into possession of the 9mm semiautomatic pistol, the shotgun, the 600 rounds of ammunition and high-voltage stun gun that he hauled into the West Nickel Mines Amish School.

The absence of any meaningful discussion of guns in a conference on school safety suggests that the White House was signaling that it was not going to do or say anything to offend or arouse Bush’s gun-rights base.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)

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