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Targeting Violence

The problem of violence in America has to be addressed from many directions. One-dimensional campaigns won't work, but any given tactic may contribute to ultimate success.

Gun-control measures are a prime example. California just took the lead here. Its new assault-weapons ban is particularly promising. In identifying banned guns by characteristics such as magazine size rather than brand, it should prove more effective than past efforts at keeping these weapons off the market.

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Gun control is one reasonable response to the violence that too often besets American society, whether in suburban schools or on inner-city streets. Limiting the availability of the tools of violence simply makes sense.

So do efforts by parents, and lawmakers, to more effectively limit young people's access to violent films or video games.

But as community activist Robert Woodson pointed out in a July 19 Monitor opinion piece, bans and curbs are not in themselves solutions. The impulse to commit violent acts operates in a moral void, and that void has to give way to something better. That means a change of heart, which often comes through the ministry of people whose religious faith compels them to help. Mr. Woodson offers impressive examples of young lives reclaimed in this way.

To focus solely on outside influences - whether a pervasive gun culture or violent video games - is to miss the importance of this inner work, Woodson warns.

His warning is valid. The value of a meaningful dialogue with today's youth, guided and strengthened by prayer, can't be overstated. The moral substance it supplies can redirect young lives and affect decisions ranging from gun ownership to what movies are viewed - or made.

That is no argument for downplaying gun-control measures like those adopted in California or efforts to clean up the media. It is an argument for giving such efforts an active moral context that embraces individual and, ultimately, societal renewal.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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