Senators propose commission to probe symptoms, solutions to youth violence
May 11, 1999
Web posted at: 4:54 p.m. EDT (2054 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 11) -- As lawmakers search for answers to "why so many kids are turning into killers," a bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation Tuesday that would form a national commission on youth violence to examine the reasons behind such tragedies and suggest preventative measures.
"Our proposal would create a select national commission on youth violence whose mandate would be to deliberately examine the many possible root causes of this crisis," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the chief architect of the bill.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman is the chief architect of the legislation
Last month's massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado reignited debate throughout the nation over what could cause juveniles to open fire on schoolmates and teachers.
The commission would help the nation to "understand why so many kids are turning into killers and to help us reach consensus on how to curtail this recurring nightmare -- What each of us can do to reduce the mix of factors that, for some of our children, becomes deadly," Lieberman said.
The announcement of the Senate bill comes a day after a White House brainstorming session with members of the gun and entertainment industries, as well as parents, students, teachers and religious leaders, on the symptoms and solution to the rise in youth violence. President Bill Clinton intended the White House event to lay the groundwork for a "national campaign" to reduce violence among the nation's youth.
Lieberman said the proposed commission is another step in that ongoing effort. Members would be drawn from the fields of law enforcement, school administration, parenting and family studies and child and adolescent psychology. It would also include cabinet members and national religious leaders.
Following a year of deliberations, the panel would "report its conclusions to the president and Congress, recommend a series of tangible steps we can take together to reduce the level of youth violence," Lieberman said.
The Littleton tragedy, the latest incident of school violence in the U.S., has led to much finger-pointing. Some blame the parents and teachers while others say that the real problem is with American society -- the easy access to weapons in the U.S. and increasingly violent images and language in movies, video games and song lyrics.
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), a Republican 2000 presidential candidate and key co-sponsor of the legislation, said the violence stems from a combination of those elements: "All of these factors conspire to disconnect our children from humanity and are turning some of them into killers."
While "the primary responsibility, as we all acknowledge, (falls) with the family," McCain also that the entertainment industry bares some responsibility. "Our homes, our families, our children's minds are being flooded by a tide of violence."
Sen. John McCain co-sponsored the bill
And taking on the politically-risky issue of gun control, McCain said, "As demonstrated by the tragic events in Colorado, it's too easy for juveniles to circumvent laws designed to restrict their access to guns."
Separately, the GOP presidential hopeful has introduced his "Youth Violence Prevention Act of 1999," composed of a series of measures aimed at keeping guns away from children.
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), another co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill, delivered a more direct challenge to gun manufacturers and advocates.
"Organizations like the National Rifle Association, and law-abiding gun owners throughout the nation, must recognize that they too bear some of the responsibility to end this madness. This is no time to take to the sidelines. I challenge them to adjust their sights and join in taking aim at this problem," the senior Democratic senator said.
Byrd warned that the mission for the youth violence panel would be difficult because "part of the cure, I believe can only be found by digging deep into the soul of America."
And Lieberman stressed that the proposal was not the only solution and is not "intended to forestall any more immediate response."
"To the contrary, we believe there are several steps that Congress and different groups and industries can and should take in the immediate future that would help us reduce, not just the risk of another school massacre, but to daily death toll of youth violence across America," the Connecticut Democrat said.
Joining Lieberman, McCain and Byrd as co-sponsors to the Senate legislation are Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), Richard Bryan (D-Nevada), Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota).