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Gun Culture In The Crosshairs

The dead aren't even buried yet in the nation's latest gun tragedies, and already the familiar, urgent arguments for and against gun control are being heard in Washington, and around the nation.

President Clinton Thursday said he would call a congressional summit meeting at the White House next week to try to get some sort of gun control legislation passed, while Republican leaders insist many on both sides see no need for any new laws at all.

And in the nation's schools, parents and educators have resumed a dialogue on school safety. They are asking if extreme measures, such as installing metal detectors, are necessary.

Two years ago, Indianapolis began the use of metal detectors in elementary schools, after four handguns were seized from young students in a year. The city has been using detectors in middle and high schools for a decade.

Superintendent of Schools Pat Pritchett told CBS News Early Show Co-Anchor Jane Clayson he believes metal detectors are responsible for reducing the number of guns caught in high schools and middle schools from over 20 a year to four or five.

Pritchett says detectors are only a part of an overall approach that includes anger management classes, and teaching children how to resolve conflicts in ways other than using violence.

He says he does not worry that the metal detectors perpetuate a feeling of fear and mistrust among students.

Martin Flemming, a former high school counselor, author of several books on problem kids ,and head of the school consulting company "For Kidsake," says he does not support metal detectors because they provide a false sense of security, and take the focus on safety off of where it should be.

"Most schools have limited amounts of dollars and sweat available to focus on this issue. They do sort of a knee jerk reaction and say, let's get security cameras or buy another security officer. Then they don't focus on the other things such as the bullying, sexual harassment, racial slurs, which is the fire that fuels the issue to begin with."

Out of the schools and inside the Capitol, CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports that many Republicans are rejecting the idea that new gun laws will stop gun crime.

But Illinois Republican Congressman Henry Hyde said, "There were 17 federal laws - and I think 16 state laws - that were violated at Columbine, and they didn't stop that," Hyde said.

The recent string of tragic episodes of gun violence has focused attention in the United States and around the world on America's "gun culture" - the cherished place of gun ownership in the national identity that is increasingly at odds with efforts at more gun control.

Thursday, a teen-age boy fatally shot a 21-year-old deputy sheriff inside a patrol car near Hiawatha, Kan. The boy later died in an exchange of gunfire with officers.

Wednesday morning Three of the victims have since died.

Later that day, a New York City police officer shot and killed a paroled drug dealer in the Bronx, just blocks from where four New York City cops killed unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo just over a year ago.

Protests erupted last week when those four cops were acquitted on second-degree murder charges stemming from Diallo's death. The jury believed the officers' defense: they say they shot Diallo 19 times because they were afraid he had a gun.

Tuesday, a 6-year-old girl was shot dead by a classmate in Michigan. Investigators say the youngster found the weapon used in the school shooting at a crack house where he had been living.

According to the White House, America's gun death rate has dropped to its lowest level in 30 years but is still the highest of any major country. The United States has a higher child gun death rate than the next 24 biggest countries combined. Foreign Editor Dan Milikow reports that the Evening Standard summed up sentiments in Britain, where popular lore has it that America has devolved into a gun-toting, crime-infested society.

After Tuesday's school shooting, the Standard editorialized: "Of course it would be wrong to suggest that Britain - for instance - is immune from murder by children But it is physically difficult for one six-year-old, however malign, to kill another without the aid of a firearm"

The Standard added that a huge cultural shift would be necessary to disarm children in a country where many "still chant the familiar mantra about their civil right to posses guns in unlimited quantities."

CBS News Special Coverage
President Calls For Gun Summit
Restaurant Shooting Aftermath
Man Charged In School Shooting Case
Commentary: Gun Crazy
Teen Shoots Highway Deputy
NYC Cop Kills Drug Dealer
Diallo Family Seeks Federal Probe

Yet in the U.S., the recent violence seems to have only widened divisions between groups that lobby for gun owners and advocates seeking more gun control.

Mr. Clinton, who has made gun control a major part of the agenda for his final year in office, called for a summit to "break the logjam" on gun control legislation and blamed the NRA (National Rifle Association.)

"I don't think most Americans have any idea what a stranglehold the NRA has had on this Congress, the president said. "The reason they can't act is the heat the NRA has put n them."

The National Rifle Association, in turn, ridiculed the idea of a White House gun summit.

"I don't know what you do when this guy won't enforce existing federal laws," said NRA president Wayne LaPierre. "He won't enforce a law against felons with guns, gang members with guns, drug dealers with guns, violent juveniles with guns and felons trying to buy guns."

Mr. Clinton is pushing for laws to require background checks before buying a weapon at gun shows, safety locks on guns and a ban the import of large-capacity ammunition clips.

The House and Senate have passed separate versions of the president's bill but have not come together on a compromise.

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