Another anniversary-Columbine

Columbines blooming fresh in the springtime. Colorado state flower.In my recent post, I wrote about the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Tech mass shooting. That mass shooting occurred on April 16, 2007- ten years ago.

“April is the cruelest month” wrote T.S. Eliot.  The poet could never have predicted how true that has become for America. The poem deals with depression and what April can mean for those who are suffering from depression. Eliot’s poem takes on new meaning considering those who suffer from grief and loss over loved ones shot and killed and/or injured in the month of April. There are too many to count since 1999.

Today is the anniversary of the Columbine shooting. Yes, remember that mass shooting? It was the first school shooting to really capture Americans as it unfolded almost in real time. It was the first one that made people wonder how it could have happened and also what in God’s name could we do to stop school shooters from randomly shooting classmates.

An article with facts about Columbine provides us with the basics about the shooting. There are facts in the article but they were not fast. It was a slow moving shooting that day. The grief of the families and friends has not healed fast. Grief is under the surface until something triggers the day. A birthday. A holiday. And today, an anniversary of that day.

The article names the victims. They were somebody’s son, daughter, niece, nephew, sister, brother, father, uncle, friend. They were real people who in an instant became named victims.

Cassie Bernall, 17
Steven Curnow, 14
Corey DePooter, 17
Kelly Fleming, 16
Matthew Kechter, 16
Daniel Mauser, 15
Daniel Rohrbough, 15
William “Dave” Sanders, 47
Rachel Scott, 17
Isaiah Shoels, 18
John Tomlin, 16
Lauren Townsend, 18
Kyle Velasquez, 16

We must also remember that 20 were injured and now live with their memories and injuries- physical and emotional.

Some have already forgotten and don’t want us to remember. Others will never forget. Just as I will never forget the night I learned that my sister had been shot and killed. That memory never goes away.

And those of us who have lost a loved one look back and wonder what could have stopped the event? Was there anything anyone could have done? Can we make sure other families don’t have to remember these anniversaries?

We could, at the least,  try to stop the shooters from easily accessing guns they shouldn’t have in the first place.

Here is how the Columbine shooters obtained their guns, being too young to purchase on their own:

Robyn Anderson, a friend of Klebold and Harris, bought the shotguns and the Hi-Point 9mm Carbine at The Tanner Gun Show in December of 1998 from unlicensed sellers. Because Anderson purchased the guns for someone else, the transition constituted an illegal “straw purchase.” Klebold and Harris bought the TEC-DC9 from a pizza shop employee named Mark Manes, who knew they were too young to purchase the assault pistol, but nevertheless sold it to them for $500.

They planned ahead. Nobody knew. That is often the case but also too often someone knew that something was not right but didn’t report it or do anything about it. From the “fast facts” article above, a statement from the mother of one of the shooters:

In the first television interview since her son Dylan killed 13 people at Columbine High School, Susan Klebold speaks to Diane Sawyer. Klebold states that “If I had recognized that Dylan was experiencing some real mental distress, he would not have been there,” she says. “He would’ve gotten help. I don’t ever, for a moment, mean to imply that I’m not conscious of the fact that he was a killer, because I am.”

We have done little or nothing to change gun laws and our gun culture in spite of horrendous mass shooting after mass shooting. We see the same things. We talk about the same things. We watch the coverage of shootings repeatedly on the news but nothing changes. The gun lobby says it’s not the guns,stupid and we couldn’t stop these shootings no matter what we do. And Presidents attend memorial services. And families grieve. And politicians put their heads in the sand and hope no one asks them what they want to do to stop shootings from happening so families don’t have to continue remembering the day their loved ones were shot. And we go on and on and on……

This article urges passage of stronger laws and points out that states that have laws requiring all gun sales to go through a background check have fewer shootings. In other words, laws do matter. Facts matter. From the article:

Research shows that background checks are effective when it comes to saving lives. States with universal background check laws experience 48 percent less gun trafficking, 47 percent fewer deaths of women shot by intimate partners, and 17 percent fewer firearms involved in aggravated assaults. States with universal background check requirements also have a 53 percent lower gun suicide rate, and 31 percent fewer suicides per capita than states without these laws.

We CAN do something. We can pass stronger gun laws such as requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales. We can pass Gun Violence Protection Orders so that families and friends can ask that guns be taken from those who could be dangerous to themselves or others. We can pass stronger laws against straw purchasing. We can wake people up to the fact that if something doesn’t seem right, it isn’t and action is necessary. We can identify that there are risks to owning guns and casually selling them to just anyone. We can hold “bad apple gun dealers” accountable and make sure guns are not being sold or exchanged with people who clearly should not have them and end as crime guns.

We can’t let Columbine be forgotten. That is what the gun lobby wants. If we forget the victims- their names and faces, maybe we will just go along and do nothing to cause “trouble” for politicians. They want to avoid the unavoidable. They want to gain the favor of the gun lobby who represent an increasingly small group of Americans who think that the “guys with the guns make the rules.”  Or they just don’t want to deal with what has become a national public health epidemic. It is not and will not be easy. But that does not mean we shouldn’t do it.

Victims continue to speak out but who is listening to them? Tom Mauser, father, of  Columbine victim Daniel Mauser, has reached out to the NRA and wants them to listen. To no avail. With every subsequent mass shooting, he will comfort other parents if they ask for him to do that. He understands. He is active in the movement to prevent gun violence. In his words ( from the article):

“For the first 10 days, I didn’t speak to the media at all. I was just in shock. […] And then suddenly, I was so angry knowing that the NRA was meeting in town that I went and spoke in front of 12,000 people.

[…]It can be shocking. After I spoke, I suddenly realized I’m going to start getting calls from the media, I’m going to start getting people who are angry at me. You really have to be prepared for that.

[…]It can get pretty overwhelming. When you become an activist, you tell your story a lot. You live that story every day anyhow, it’s not like you don’t think of your loss. But when you go in front of other people and speak about it, it’s so much more. “

We have our stories. We have the facts on our side. But the facts and our stories don’t seem to be enough. They should be but we are living in a world where big money speaks and makes policy that advantages corporations and thumbs its’ corporate and political nose at the victims and survivors.

The truth is that on April 20, 1999, 12 students and one teacher were brutally and shockingly and unexpectedly murdered for no reason other than two seemingly angry and possibly mentally ill young men wanted to shoot other kids. There is no other explanation.

What say you gun lobbyists and gun extremists? Is this OK with you? Is it just about mental illness? What if these two couldn’t have so easily accessed guns? What then?

The Columbine is Colorado’s state flower, thus the name of the school. Often names of flowers have significant meanings. For the Columbine flower there is a message:

Wherever your journey takes you stay steadfast in your faith, love and friendships. Believe in things that are not yet seen.

We have not yet seen the majority of America’s leaders step up to the challenge of gun violence. There is actually common ground on solving the issue of gun violence. The majority understands that doing something about this epidemic will save lives.

Where is common sense?

April- shooting anniversaries and an important birthday

April foolEvery April, some families have to stop what they are doing and remember an awful anniversary. The country also remembers certain April dates as those of mass shootings and violent events that we can’t forget:

April 13- Thomas Jefferson’s birthday

April 15- Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent shooting of one of the perpetrators and eventual capture and shooting of the other

April 16- Virginia Tech shooting

April 19- Oklahoma City bombing by gun rights extremist

April 20- Columbine shooting

April is a cruel month according to poet T.S. Eliot:

 

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
This of course refers to the spring weather which has been particularly cruel in Minnesota this year. We are one day wearing winter coats and boots and shoveling and the next sitting outside in short sleeves and enjoying the spring sun.
But for the victims of these now famous shootings and attacks, April is unforgettable. How can we forget the 32 shot dead at Virginia Tech? How can we forget the first big school shooting that left 12 dead and the country reeling? How can we forget the Oklahoma bombing that left 168 innocent people dead. The man who committed this heinous act was a gun extremist and had anti-government sentiments. The Boston Marathon Bombing did end with shootings and left 3 people there to watch the finish of the race dead.
And what does Thomas Jefferson’s birthday have to do with any of this? Let’s take a look at this article that dispels the myths associated with some of his quotes that are used by gun extremists and far right political extremists:
Saul Cornell, a professor at Fordham University, said some quotations may need context, especially those from the “losing side” of debates. He added that he believes both sides of the gun conversation tend to oversimplify the Founding Fathers’ historical intent.
“Without being too professorial about it,” he said, “depending on what theory of the Constitution we use, you can get very different interpretations of the Second Amendment.”
Cornell, who is the Paul and Diane Guenther Chair in American History at the school, said the Constitution incorporates lessons learned while the nation was under the Articles of Confederation. He said the turmoil of Shays’ Rebellion stirred up fears of mob rule among many leaders.
He also compared the militias of early America to a form of taxation, saying that citizens had what Jefferson referred to as a “right and duty” to be armed. That is, they were required to buy weapons in addition to being allowed to possess them. Militia membership was often compulsory, Cornell said.
He questions whether the Founding Fathers would have welcomed the idea of people taking up arms against their newly hatched constitutional government instead of using governmental procedure to settle differences, which sometimes is referred to as the “ballots vs. bullets” debate.
The quote that has sometimes been used by extremists is: ” The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” So what does that mean? From this article in the Huffington Post by Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence:
Those who hold the belief that the Second Amendment gives them an individual right to take violent action against our government should it lapse into “tyranny” have isolated Jefferson’s “tree of liberty” quote in order to justify a radical ideology. The truth is that Jefferson’s views on private rebellion were far more thoughtful and nuanced. While scholars like Saul Cornell have acknowledged that Jefferson affirmed an individual right to keep arms for private purposes, he never described disorganized or spontaneous insurrection as a right. Jefferson instead envisioned“a universally armed citizenry organized into well-regulated militia units based on a system of ‘ward republics’” as a deterrent against “usurpers” and a key guarantor of a healthy republic.
In today’s hyperbolic and sometimes even violence-prone political environment it is important to understand that armed Americans ready to fight against their own government or for a particular candidate is not a democracy. We use ballots- not bullets- and hopefully common sense, to change our leaders. Our Founding Fathers wanted it that way. I doubt that they envisioned armed Americans ready to fight their own government or use their guns to intimidate and bully other Americans.

Some wonder if April has some significance when it comes to violence. This article explores that idea and comes to the conclusion that in America, at least, mass shootings occur in any and every month and we know that shootings happen every day of every month to the tune of 90 a day.

For my family August was a cruel month. For others it was December when 20 first graders and 6 educators were shot dead by a young angry mentally disturbed man who should not have had access to guns.

Gun violence is cruel and devastating. In American it is particularly and uniquely so.It doesn’t have to be that way. We shouldn’t be thinking about certain months or certain dates in light of violent events that took place then. Too many families hate the anniversaries of the shooting deaths of their loved ones or friends.

It’s past time to change the conversation and do something. Today a petition with 200,000 signatures to ask Congress to repeal the PLCAA law was delivered. A protest outside of the hotel where the NSSF was meeting also happened. The National Shooting Sports Foundation opposed the Senate background check bill in 2013 much to the great consternation of gun violence prevention activists and victims. It is located in Newtown, Connecticut where the Sandy Hook shooting took place.

April is a busy month for activists whose mission it is to call attention to our American public health epidemic and ask our leaders to do something about it. The month starts out with April Fools’ Day. We will not be fooled by the false and deceptive rhetoric of the corporate gun lobby. And we can’t let our elected leaders be fooled either. It is no joke to have a loved one’s life cut short by a bullet. And that is why we are acting today, this month and every month.

Check out the Facebook page of Newtown Action Alliance and the Twitter feed of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence for photos showing the activists working for victims. This is what change looks like. Let’s keep going and make it happen.