CHEVY CHASE, Md. (AP) - President Bush urged the nation Tuesday to help prevent deadly school shootings, saying adults should intervene when they notice children are in trouble.
"Hopefully, out of these tragedies will come the sense of communal obligation all throughout our country, for people to take an extra effort to comfort the lonely," Bush said at a summit he ordered in response to recent violence.
Bush seemed most struck by one of the points raised by experts: When students plot violence, they often brag about it in advance to other students. Safety specialists say schools must encourage students to speak up when they notice any ominous behavioral changes.
"The whole purpose of this exercise is to help educate," Bush said at the National 4-H Conference Center, "and if there needs to be a cultural change inside schools, for teachers to become more aware and more active."
There were no new policies nor new money announced. The administration instead touted Web sites of existing resources. Panelists spent the day sharing examples of local programs.
Democrats mocked the event as a photo opportunity with little substance. Democratic senators challenged Bush to reinstate funding that's been cut from school-safety programs.
"It seems every week we learn of yet another school shooting, and all the president is willing to do is hold a summit," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (news, bio, voting record), D-N.J.
Over the last two weeks, school shootings in Wisconsin, Colorado and Pennsylvania have unnerved the nation. Two involved adult intruders; the other was a student seeking revenge.
The federal role in school safety is limited. It's mainly a local matter. But the White House, sensitive to the concerns of many parents, wanted to show it was doing something.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales led three panel discussions. Time and again, speakers said schools get safer when they take bullying seriously, practice their crisis plans, and talk to parents about what's happening.
"Our first line of prevention is really having good intelligence," said Delbert Elliott, director of the University of Colorado Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.
Columbine survivor Craig Scott told the wrenching story of the day his sister died. He was in the Colorado school in 1999 when two student gunmen went on a rampage, killing 13 people, including his sister Rachel. He told Bush that kindness and compassion can trump violence.
"Please take my words to heart today," Scott said. "They were bought at a high price."
Bush applauded Scott's efforts. But when responding to an audience member, Bush challenged an assertion that the school testing he champions has crowded out character education.
"I don't think it's zero sum," Bush said. "I think you make sure a child learns and you can instill character at the same time."
He also said it was beyond the federal government to change what is in people's hearts.
"Government is law and justice," Bush said. "Loves comes from the hearts of people that are able to impart love."
At one point, someone in the audience asked Gonzales why the government hadn't done more to keep guns out of kids' hands.
"Obviously, kids should not have access to weapons, and there should be no weapons in our schools," the attorney general said. "That's been the position of our president since his days as governor."
The number of deadly shootings has gone up and down over the last 15 years. Overall school violence has trended downward, although it has increased lately.
Students in middle school and high school reported about 660,000 violent crimes in school in 2002 — a 43 percent drop from a decade earlier. But the number rose to 740,000 in 2003.
Four weeks before Election Day, the event gave Bush a chance to emphasize education, the issue at the center of his domestic agenda. The summit comes as Republicans in Congress have been eager to change the subject from a sex scandal involving former House pages.
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