School violence is one of the more difficult quandaries facing society today. Having a child or teenager die is a gut-wrenching event in any community, regardless of how it happens; to have it happen at the hands of another child or teenager is almost impossible to fathom. The friends and families of those lost in Bethel, Columbine, Colo., and most recently San Diego have gone through the worst imaginable pain.
How to prevent such tragedies from occurring, however, is almost equally unimaginable. So many guns are available, so many teens suffer the pangs of adolescence, so many parents have no clue who their children are or what they are doing, that it's hard to figure out where to begin.
How does society intervene? Students aren't likely to volunteer that they need help. We know that some tragedies have been averted because kids hear their friends mention the unmentionable and bring the situation to authorities' attention.
But what then? How do we grapple with the student who says to a friend that he or she wants to bring a gun to school and wreak havoc, or who threatens a teacher, or calls in a bomb threat? Is that free speech, or is it akin to yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater?
The Homer Police Department should be commended for identifying the problem and seeking a solution. After a recent incident at Homer High School in which a student threatened violence, police officers discovered he had access to an assault weapon and plenty of ammunition at home. Whether he intended to use it is the question. Given the examples we have seen elsewhere, we have to assume he might have.
Yet until such a student pulls out a weapon, police have little ground to take him into custody. That's what the Homer department would like to change. It has asked the Alaska Legislature to allow police to take that person into custody with the expressed purpose of getting them off the street. The law would require police to get the suspect into mental health counseling or charge him or her with a misdemeanor.
"It is clear that law enforcement needs assistance from the Alaska Legislature to ensure the continued safety of all citizens in our communities, especially in our schools," the letter says.
Is that denying someone's right of free speech? Not by a long shot. Gone are the days when you could joke about bombs or hijacking in an airport, and the same should be said about bringing a gun to school. The excuse that "I was just joking" is sadly out of date.
The Alaska Legislature may find fault with the idea, but the Homer Police Department deserves our thanks for trying to bring some sense to a world that sometimes seems senseless.
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