Gore Sees 'Call to Action' in Massacre
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 1999; Page A15
DAVENPORT, Iowa, April 28 At J.B. Young Intermediate School here today, Vice President Gore met youngsters who see guns in their schools, view pornography on the Internet and return to empty homes each weekday.
In a living room in Dubuque, he heard the pleas of a woman whose two sisters had been robbed by attackers toting guns and knives.
And late tonight, he invited the entire nation to weigh in on the "lessons of Littleton" in a televised town hall-style meeting.
One week after the high school massacre in Colorado, Gore is using the bully pulpit of his office to launch what aides describe as a national "call to action." From his eulogy in Littleton on Sunday to four events across Iowa today, the vice president who hopes to become president is seizing this unique moment to push his community-based, interventionist agenda to the fore.
It is an agenda that melds gun control, curbs on media violence, better access to mental health care and "teaching values and character formation."
Aides say Gore, who shot guns as a boy in Tennessee, has long advocated many of the positions he articulated today, but the public attention focused on the Columbine High School shootings has given his message new prominence.
"He has been trying to talk about how community can be a powerful force in society," said one top aide. "This is at the essence of what community can do."
And the topic has elicited a more emotional side of Gore not often seen on the campaign trail.
"He was in such physical and emotional contact with these victims in Littleton, it powerfully affected him," said Robert Squier, a veteran Gore adviser traveling with the vice president today.
At a Victorian-era home perched on the bluffs of Dubuque, Gore recounted a private moment he shared with one parent in Littleton last Sunday. As the two hugged, the parent whispered: " 'You've got to tell me that these children did not die in vain. We have got to make changes; promise me that you will.'
"And I said, 'I promise.' "
As many in the room applauded, Gore said: "I ask you all to join in making that promise come true because, if we all act together, we can; there is absolutely no question in my mind."
Still, Gore has difficulty shedding his habitual focus on government programs. At the school here in Davenport, he plodded through his standard discourse on after-school programs, "expeditionary learning" and early intervention. Before calling on a single student, Gore handed off the microphone to the lieutenant governor, a sheriff and a teacher. When he finally steered the conversation back to the horrors of Littleton, his audience -- especially the students -- perked up.
Brian Shell, 14, told Gore that one day, standing near the school bathroom, a fellow student handed him a gun.
Almost in disbelief, Gore peppered the boy with questions: Was it loaded? Where were you? What grade are you in? What do you think ought to be done to keep guns out of school?
"Put chains on the doors," the student replied.
Observed Gore: "It just strikes me that when I was growing up, the idea of a seventh-grader bringing a gun to school and handing it to a classmate would have been outside the bounds of what anybody experienced, but now it happens."
One boy called for tougher gun control; another suggested installing metal detectors in every school, and several youngsters said violence in the media and on the Internet are partially to blame.
Gore agreed, using the Bible parable of the sower to make his point about vulnerable youth.
"When we just flood our culture with so much violence and mayhem on a regular, steady basis . . . in some young minds the seeds will sprout bitter fruit, and we have to recognize that and pay attention to it," he said.
Although President Clinton has long been considered the emoter-in-chief, Gore, in his appearances today, struck a chord with audiences.
"I'm just one person, but what can I do about the gun lobby?" asked Cathy Weber, a teacher and social worker. "I'm very angry about what's happened."
Later tonight, Gore co-hosted a televised session on Littleton from a high school in Des Moines. The discussion capped a high-profile week for the vice president and his wife, Tipper, who have appeared on a half-dozen TV programs in the past few days.
"People are heartbroken by this tragedy and searching for what the nation can do in response," Gore said during a program on MSNBC.
NBC anchor Tom Brokaw challenged Gore to take on Hollywood, which has contributed generously to his presidential campaign.
Gore, acknowledging violence on television and in the movies is "way out of control," nevertheless issued a challenge back to Brokaw.
"I would also formally request that NBC join the other networks in agreeing to rate their programs so that parents will be able to block out the ones they think young children are not ready to handle."
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company