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Boys squirt water, men fire lead.

I remember an old line about the only difference between men and boys being the price of their toys. After reading about a shooting in Oregon in which one student was felled by a bullet fired by another, I found it an easy reach to note the difference is also fire power in their guns.

Boys squirt water; men fire lead.

I knew from the time they are little, boys handle guns. They're comfortable with them in their hands; they know how to pull a trigger. As long as there is a market for toy guns, stores will stack their shelves.

Adults wonder why children are drawn to the shiny weapons. They're not drawn to them; they're thrust onto the scene. "Do you want this AK-47 in black or camouflage, Butch?" Mom or Dad will prompt the 4-year-old boy.

As for writing about the victim's having joined the National Guard, well, Milton's "They also serve who only stand and wait" ran through my head.

Reaction to the article was very positive, but nothing has changed. Everyone wants the shooting to stop and everyone says "tsk, tsk" when it doesn't. Neighborhood pre-teen boys on bikes will brandish rifles or shoot cap guns. They'll hide behind trees and "pow, pow, pow," never running out of ammunition or energy. Their adrenaline rushes and they wait for the day....

The focus of the article was to tell readers it has always been thus. There is a cause and there is an effect. If the cause isn't analyzed, how can we expect a different effect?

How does it begin and where does it end?

The American Reporter, May 29, 1998

Imagine! A schoolboy was buried Wednesday with full military honors. A 17-year-old was one of two students killed in last week's shooting spree in an Oregon high school cafeteria.

I overheard one middle-aged woman say to another: "We're overreacting, to bury the boy with military honors just because he signed up for the National Guard. He didn't even have a uniform, fo'godsake!" The other woman shrugged. I couldn't tell if she knew any better.

It doesn't surprise me that a youth with a name like Mikael Nickolauson would be among those joining the National Guard and planning to enter Basic Training this summer. Young men with similar names have a history of being inordinately proud to be Americans, proud to serve their country - in war and peace, anxious to enlist.

This doesn't happen to be a time of peace, what with the ongoing hostilities beginning August 2, 1990, not yet declared ended.

Thus, when Mikael Nickolauson enlisted in the Guard last week, he was prepared to defend his country with his life if necessary and at a moment's notice. He would be a member of the National Guard.

Perhaps he delved into the history of the Guard and learned that in World War II, almost half of the Army's combat divisions in France were National Guard Divisions. There were National Guard units overseas when Pearl Harbor was bombed; they made the Bataan Death March; they were the first Army units to fight offensively on Guadalcanal; and, they've been the first to deploy overseas for combat in every theater of war, in every war.

Did Mikael Nickolauson know he became part of this proud tradition when he put his life on the line?

Poet John Milton said it best: "They also serve who only stand and wait," and at the close of the military honors ceremony, a flag would be presented to his family "from a grateful nation," grateful that there are those who "stand and wait." The National Security Act's stated goal is "readiness for any eventuality." Serving by waiting, Mikael Nickolauson was part of this parade of preparedness.

He signed up, ready to lay his life on the line. Unfortunately, he lost that life on the cafeteria line in a sleepy little town in Oregon. The incident is one common enough to be included in "any eventuality" and part of the goal of readiness.

How do we prepare? How can we be ready? And, why such an epidemic of this madness? I have listened to every argument suggesting reasons for the behavior of young people who shoot and kill. I've heard drugs, working parents, non-working parents, permissiveness, Ritalin, too much sugar, too few vitamins, no father figure, no family structure, no attention, too much attention, anger, guns in the home, no guns in the home, television, movies, no religion, arcade games, Dungeons and Dragons, alcohol, and Joe Camel.

I have no answers. I do have questions, though. Why is it that among my friends growing up there were two teenage boys who had glass eyes? One lost his eye to a shot from a BB gun; the other, from a dinner fork wielded by his angry brother when he reached for the last piece of chicken.

Why is it many teenage girls then had scars on their shins because shots from BB guns ricocheted off the pavement while the boys chanted: "dance, dance," and pulled the triggers? It was such "natural" behavior that we lived with it.

"Stay away from those kids," mothers would shrug.

There was no reason for BB guns to be part of the culture when I was a teen. No rats, snakes, or pesky rabbits to kill, just innocent sparrows flying by. Boys 10 to 15 grabbed their air rifles, would aim and then shoot at birds, shoot at trees, shoot at tin cans and bottles, and then set their rifle sights - just for fun - on the squealing, frightened, angry girls. People got hurt. I don't recall anyone questioning a kid for having shot his BB gun.

"He got it for Christmas," I'd hear. "What else is he supposed to do with it?"

Finally, it has come to what we have now. In another time, when teenagers' rebellion got out of hand, it was still confined to home or the neighborhood. The disruption was localized and treated as a "family" affair. Although that comfort zone now includes school and the mall, the only thing that has really changed is the degree of destruction.

I am not comparing apples and oranges just because BB's shot one at a time are not the same as getting off 58 rounds of ammunition in 10 seconds. We are still talking about boys behaving badly and holding guns. I'm left to ponder the question: How is it that two youths from stable families can grow up thinking so differently?

Over a generation ago this was a popular theme in movies. One inner-city kid becomes a priest and the other shoots his way onto Death Row. Fade out. In Oregon, one boy thinks he wants to serve his country and the other thinks he wants to kill - anybody.

The thoughts that brought Mikael Nickolauson to enlist are not known; the thoughts that brought Kip Kinkel to fire those rounds - well, in the stated goal of "readiness in any eventuality," finding the origin of those troublesome but age-old thoughts should be our next frontier. We've been poised at its edge for half a century.

NCEW member Constance J. Daley is a St. Simons Island, Georgia-based correspondent for The American Reporter, an online daily newspaper ( Her e-mail address is
COPYRIGHT 1999 National Conference of Editorial Writers
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:editorial on how boys become interested in guns; The Masthead Symposium: Ones That Didn't Get Away: Editorials from the Impeachment Era
Author:Daley, Constance J.
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Jun 22, 1999
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