Stephen Kent

Consider the events during a week in October. The first one took place on Monday in which Jose Reyes, 12, took a semi-automatic 9 mm pistol to his middle school in Sparks, Nev., shot a fellow student in the shoulder, killed math teacher Michael Landsberry and shot a second student in the abdomen before fatally shooting himself.

During the same week, on Tuesday, sheriffs’ deputies in Santa Rosa, Calif., shot and killed a 13-year-old boy carrying a replica assault rifle they mistook for the real thing. Deputies repeatedly ordered him to drop what they thought was a weapon, sheriff’s department officials said. The boy was pronounced dead at the scene from seven gunshot wounds. The plastic toy gun resembled an AK-47. Deputies also found a plastic handgun in the boy’s waistband.


On Wednesday, an 11-year-old middle school student in Vancouver, Wash., was arrested after he brought 400 rounds of ammunition, multiple knives and a handgun to school, intending to shoot another student who he thought was bullying his friend, police said. No one was injured. The boy told school officials that a voice in his head was telling him to kill an 11-year-old classmate for calling the boy’s friend gay, according to a news article.

None of these boys were old enough have a driver’s license. Some had yet to begin shaving.

What caused this? Permissive firearms laws? Yes. The media espousing violence as a solution to problems? Yes. What happened to cause two young men to want to kill? What is the climate on the streets that causes professional cops to believe a young boy is a threat? What in the world is going on?

A couple of other news items from the same week included two California cities looking at measures to prohibit churches in their downtown areas. Places of worship, they said, use commercial space that otherwise can be used by new restaurants and retail stores. The U.S. Air Force Academy removed “so help me God” from the cadet honor code, making it optional. Are such examples of making God optional and advancing commerce over churches part of the problem? Yes.

I propose that we explore another reason that deserves blame: shopping carts. My theory is similar to the “broken-windows theory,” which holds that if a neighborhood doesn’t fix its broken windows and graffiti, the environment will continue to descend into crime, chaos and violence.

This occurred to me while driving through the parking lot of our local membership warehouse.

Each time I spotted what I thought was an available parking stall, it was occupied by one or more carts. There were carts on the islands, carts randomly scattered here and there, even though the parking lot had many defined return areas for the carts. Put packages in the car, return cart, but many do not.

This is “does not apply to me” at its most simple level. But it can grow. It leads to being a single driver in high occupancy vehicle, or carpool, lanes.

At what point do you decide rules or laws do not apply to you? It is difficult to eradicate the “me first” attitude from a life once it takes hold.


Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: