ANOTHER SCHOOL shooting and the gun-control advocates and opponents are again on opposite banks of the river of blood. The White House has turned its back on the riddled bodies floating downstream as the other side shouts and points down at the river, dismissed as village idiots.
After Columbine and the Million Mom March, it seemed that the forces for more sane gun restrictions were gaining strength in Congress. Now, with President Bush acting as a courtier to the National Rifle Association, there is suddenly no debate at all.
After three school shootings in his first two months in office which killed two students and wounded 20 people, Bush has reduced the problem to a vague wish for values.
''When America teaches her children right from wrong and teaches values that respect life in our country, our country will be better off,'' Bush said. He said nothing about guns.
Bush's education secretary, Rod Paige, said America's children need ''character education.'' As for guns, Paige said, ''We think just focusing on guns is much too narrow; it's beyond guns. The guns may be the instrument of the violence, but they're not the cause of the violence.''
Attorney General John Ashcroft said that violent video games and violent media fuel an ''ethic of violence.'' But when it came to the most violent object in America - a gun - Ashcroft said, ''Gun laws ... alone aren't going to solve the problem.''
The Bush strategy of treating school shootings as if a gun was never fired is working. The media have been diverted into ''values'' investigations on bullying or tattling. Gun-control Democrats have nearly censored themselves for fear of being written off as village idiots. Virtually no major Democrat called for a renewed debate on gun control after Santee.
This cannot possibly last. The very thing that is working for Bush now ultimately will fail. His denial about guns today will result in more school shootings tomorrow. Deep down, Americans know this. The majority of Americans want tighter gun restrictions. The question is whether gun control advocates can tap into that feeling before another Columbine.
In the spirit of having nothing to lose - village idiots usually have nothing to lose - gun control forces should call Bush's bluff. Give him credit, tons of credit, on the things they can. Give him so much credit that if Bush does not respond with humble compromise, he will be exposed as a heartless slave of the NRA.
Tell Bush that, yes, we agree. Values do matter. Yes, Mr. Ashcroft, we're with you about video games and the media. So do your job. Work with Congress to establish strict standards for violent video games. Demand that guns and bloody bodies cannot appear on early-evening prime time television. Tell the networks to get rid of violent ads for first-run movies during the Super Bowl.
Mr. Bush, you are absolutely right when you say, ''We all have a duty to watch for and report troubling signs.'' So take back that $1.6 trillion tax cut meant to boost sales at strip malls and instead spend it on reducing class size. Spend it on expanding high school extra-curricular activities.
Mr. President, you say, ''My job is to say to the moms and dads of America, `Your most important job is to love your children with all your heart and all your soul.'''
What gun control advocate would disagree? So use your power to make that job easier. Take the $1.6 trillion and instead of giving Americans a chance to buy more TVs to baby-sit their kids, spend it on a for-real, paid family leave such as the one they have in Western Europe, not this jive American leave which only grants you the right to slash your family's income in half and risk demotion when you go back to work.
See, Mr. President, we have some common ground. There is an ''ethic of violence.'' As you say, when someone takes a gun and shoots someone it is an ''act of cowardice.''
But now, Mr. President, we came your way on values, what about the guns? You say our most important job as moms and dads is to love our children.
Mr. President, what is your most important job? To help the moms and dads, or the NRA?
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company