Ten years after that horrific day, we still find asking ourselves: Why? Could this have been prevented? Tragically, we come to realize that answering such a question is not plausible. Two new books on the event reveal unfortunate lapses and intentional cover-ups by the authorities and cluelessness on the part of the boys’ parents. On the quiet spring morning of April 20, 1999, Columbine High School emerged from relative obscurity as a typical suburban high school and became internationally known as a symbol of school violence and tragic loss. There have been more than 80 school shootings since Columbine, a testament to the fact that we still don’t understand what leads to these acts of mass murder.
In the wake of the Columbine tragedy, we witnessed a changing platform towards school violence. The United States also saw a reaffirmation from right wing zealots who clutched to outdated gun laws for dear life that reforming gun accessibility was off the table. The National Rifle Association would hold its annual convention in Denver that year, less than 20 miles away from Columbine High School and almost two weeks after the massacre. However, Colorado would tighten restrictions on gun sales at gun shows, but national legislation failed to pass muster in Congress. An epidemic of profiling swept US high schools, but it was based largely on the stereotypical idea that the killers were bullied outcasts.
As we have come to learn, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two smart, apparently “normal young boys about to graduate,” planned the Columbine attack for more than year. Rather than being bullied, they were the bullies. Nor were they social outcasts, as we have built the typical profile of the mass shooter to be. Harris and Klebold were not the “Trenchcoat Mafia,” and they were not loners warped by video games. Details have emerged recently illustrating just how greatly they planned to kill “thousands of people”, including their own friends. They had in fact prepared bombs to kill emergency responders and parents; however, the poorly made bombs didn’t go off as planned.
Ten years after that horrific day, we still find asking ourselves: Why? Could this have been prevented? Tragically, we come to realize that answering such a question is not plausible. Two new books on the event reveal unfortunate lapses and intentional cover-ups by the authorities and cluelessness on the part of the boys’ parents. Just how did these teens obtain guns? More importantly, why have we been unable to prevent the successor shootings to Columbine, such as Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois among countless others?
In the past month alone, 57 Americans have been killed in mass shootings across the country. In Binghamton, New York, a 41-year-old Vietnamese immigrant, Jiverly Wong, killed 14 people, including himself. On March 22, four Oakland police officers lost their lives. One week later, eight people lost their lives in a shooting at a retirement home in North Carolina. All of these recent shootings come in the midst of a national spurt in gun sales that began in November.
Some analysts have tied in the timing of the gun sales to the election of President Obama. The NRA and its advocates, such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, have consistently claimed that Obama was going to ban guns. Obama has stated he has no intention to do so; however, on April 4, Richard Poplawski shot three officers at his home. Rants on a white supremacist website indicate he was preoccupied with the idea that President Obama was going to overturn the Second Amendment.
After Columbine and Virginia Tech, our nation engaged in a somewhat promising debate on gun control. However, the gun advocates proved too influencing on the bureaucracy. The Obama White House has hardly been the profile of courage in this regard; if anything, it has been the antagonist of. Recent calls by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to re-impose an assault weapons ban to make it harder for American gun traffickers to arm Mexican drug cartels received a chilly reception by the President.
Approximately 300,000 Americans have died from gun violence since Columbine. Although there is strong public support for stricter gun control laws, very little has been done to curb this epidemic. Our failure in this regard is owed to a record of failed leadership, blind ideology, and raw intimidation and power by the gun lobby and industry. We owe it to the victims of Columbine to open a transparent debate on guns in our nation. Otherwise, we have simply wasted a decade since this tragedy and also allowed many more to take place.