As a state and as a nation, we have failed the clear call to action to address the tragic warning the Columbine shootings delivered in 1999.
Twenty years after the Columbine shootings, every TV news alert, every urgent text from a school is met with dread by parents across the country.
Soon after a teacher and 12 students were killed during the massacre, Congress and the state rallied. We saw the catastrophic loss of life as an alarm about the lack of gun control, our children and our society.
It became obvious even to stalwart conservatives like former Congressman Tom Tancredo, whose district included Littleton, that virtually unrestricted guns, media violence, mental illness, overtaxed schools and a desensitized society were all contributing to this new public nightmare.
What was supposed to be the war on school shootings to end all school shootings, fizzled.
While the Columbine massacre became synonymous with school shootings, it was a mass shooting in 1989 at a school in Stockton, California and one in 1991 at a Luby’s cafeteria in Kileen, Texas, that prompted even Republicans like former President Ronald Reagan to back a 1994 assault weapons ban in hopes of reversing a ghastly rise in gun massacres.
The ban was hopelessly weakened before being signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. It applied only to future manufacture of so-called assault weapons and virtually did nothing to reduce their numbers or easy availability.
It was at that time the National Rifle Association, which had recently moved toward becoming a political organization, became a strident lobbying group. Once an organization espousing marksmanship and gun safety, the NRA evolved into a union led by zealots, obsessed with a warped interpretation of the Second Amendment.
Not only was the NRA and others able to thwart effective gun control, despite public sentiment in its favor, they were able to help marshal candidates who further weakened national and state gun laws.
It’s undeniable that rampant American gun slaughter is the result of prolific and easily attained guns, relatively absent treatment for mental illness and a lurid fascination with ubiquitous, graphic gun violence in every form of popular media.
After the Columbine massacre, the nation had a chance to tackle all of these problems. Congress and state legislators, instead, chose to do nothing.
The killings continued. Then came the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. Tepid Colorado gun control enacted in 2013 was met with consummate NRA anger and a massive effort to elect pro-gun activists. For the first time in history, defying the NRA and other extremist, anti-gun-control groups made political candidates fearful.
And the shootings kept coming. Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Thousand Oaks, Santa Fe, Texas and Parkland now eclipse Columbine.
Colorado lawmakers just now have been able to pass a much-needed red-flag gun bill. The measure allows police to remove guns from mentally ill people until they can prove they’re well enough to reclaim them.
Absurdly, sheriffs from almost half of Colorado counties have threatened to shun the laws, citing what they say is an infraction on gun-ownership rights. Now the challenge is how to fight against elected officials who argue for gun-rights of critically mentally ill citizens.
Last week, the 20th anniversary of Columbine was marked with a metro-wide gun threat. Almost every school in the region was shut down. Yet the aftermath caused all the consternation of a troublesome snow day.
It’s not too late to change our attitude about gun violence. We have a choice to elect candidates who will enact sensible gun control in line with how the Second Amendment was fashioned to work in the Constitution.
We can choose to eschew absurdly violent media.
We can choose to make all healthcare, and especially mental health care, available to all Americans.
We can choose, as educators, friends, law enforcers and family members, to intervene when mental illness becomes apparent.
Or we can continue to choose to do nothing, marking the Columbine massacre after the worst year in school and other mass shootings in American history, and we can continue to live in fear and dread.