Counsel offered amid violence


FLINT, MICHIGAN (March 7, 2000) -- In the midst of the shock

surrounding a six-year-old boy alledgedly shooting and killing his

first-grade classmate, a long-term response is already being planned.

Shortly after the tragedy occurred last week, the Presbytery of Lake

Huron began planning a response. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

(PDA) reported that the presbytery plans to offer a "summer camp

experience" for the affected students, modeled after the response by

the Presbytery of Arkansas to the 1998 middle school shooting in

Jonesboro, AR.

Initial plans are to use the facilities of the First Presbyterian

Church of Flint.

Local churches responded with counseling and prayer immediately as well.

The Rev. Sylvester Miller III, pastor of Faith United Methodist

Church, rushed to the school to serve as a counselor to the children

and teachers alike.

"They still feel frightened and uncertain, and rightly so," Miller

said of the children. "They really don't know what to think."

The same might be said for a nation grappling with an epidemic of

school violence now involving unimaginably young children.

Because of the extreme youth of the alledged shooter, the community

has quickly embraced him as a victim of the tragedy as well.

"Our position now is to really stand in the gate for both families as

much as we possibly can, because we recognize that the trauma is

tremendous for both of them. We feel like it's the community's

responsibility to reach out to both families to try to embrace them

and support them," Miller said.

The Rev. Herbert B. Dixson, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church,

counseled the school's principal, who is a member of his

congregation, and some of the teachers as well. He said one of the

greatest issues they were wrestling with was "dealing with children

who have no home base."

The boy's father is currently in jail for violating probation related

to a burglary conviction. The house where the boy was staying

allegedly saw traffic in illegal drugs and guns. In fact, the .32

caliber handgun used in the killing had been reported stolen some

time before.

To begin helping to remedy the problem, Faith United Methodist Church

has scheduled a parenting clinic open to the community this weekend.

While the program had been slated for the near future, it was rushed

into a timeslot normally reserved for bible study after the shooting


The boy never would have been able to use the gun if it had been

equipped with proper safety features allowing only adults to use it,

said Bryan Miller, executive director of CEASEFIRE New Jersey, a

statewide gun violence prevention group.

"In this case, if we had childproof handguns, it wouldn't make any

difference where this boy found the gun or how he got the gun, it

wouldn't work," Miller said.

No one wants children to have guns, he added, "so therefore, since

the technology is out there (to make guns childproof), we should

require that guns be made with such technology."

That is exactly CEASEFIRE's aim: to pass legislation in New Jersey

requiring childproofing for all new handguns sold in the state three

to five years after enactment of the law.

The group cites several existing technologies -- such as fingerprint

identification, radio tagging, and biometrics -- as solutions to the


Miller said the push for legislation has gained impetus with this

latest and now all-too-common school shooting.

"It's incredibly saddening for me personally and, I think, for the

whole country it's sad to find that guns are so prevalent in our

society that first-graders can take them to school and kill other

first-graders. It's just depressing is what it is," said Miller, who

became active on the issue when he lost a brother to gun violence.

Miller also promotes laws for safer handguns through PUSH, People

United for Safer Handguns, another coalition that includes several

mainline Protestant denominations, Catholics, and Jewish


Posted March 7, 2000

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