Reviewing the lessons of Columbine

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By The Staff

By Hannah Hayes

When I see parents waiting at a bus stop, I can remember the multitude of feelings I had when my child came home from school on the day of the Columbine shootings. The illusion of schools as safe havens was irrevocably shattered, as were so many lives. We are all Columbine.

Some say America lost her innocence on Sept. 11, 2001, but for those who are close to Columbine, that happened on April 20, 1999. As the mother of a student who traveled the world while getting her education, I have known my share of parental anxiety, but the traumas of raising a child are very different from the tragedies.

The legacy of the Columbine children and teacher Dave Sanders deserve our best efforts moving forward. How students are protected now will honor them. The courage of the wounded as they move forward is testament to the human spirit. To paraphrase John Donne: We don’t ask for whom the bell tolls; we know it tolls for us all.

I recently read Wally Lamb’s psychological novel, “The Hour That I First Believed,” which begins with Columbine and traces the lives of his fictitious characters. The consequences of that day reverberated long into the future in Lamb’s story, as it does for South Jefferson County residents. Continuing and serious effects from what happened 10 years ago are still felt worldwide, as evidenced by scrutiny of video games, including one based on the killers, and copycat crimes.

A study by the Secret Service and the Department of Education details the importance of a “climate of safety” where teachers and students respect each other, social and emotional support is offered and students are provided a positive connection with at least one adult in a position of authority.

Accusations abound about bullying, side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, the easy availability of guns and the unavailability of parents as causes for concern. But, school attacks have shown patterns of observable behaviors that can lead to prevention because they are planned in advance, and those plans are usually shared with others.

Many schools have added metal detectors, police officers and other trappings of physical security. These measures are akin to having all airplane travelers remove their shoes to go through airport security. The process feels so lax; it does little to inspire confidence. Those intent on committing a crime and killing themselves won’t be stopped by these insufficient methods.

School safety is much more about how we live our lives and educate our students. Neither standardized tests nor armed guards will bring the kind of experiences students need to navigate this world. Listening and giving respect have been shown to do more for safety than arming teachers. In a way similar to the Peaceful Tomorrows group, which took the high road following the Sept. 11 strike by turning their grief into actions for peace, the survivors of Columbine inspire us.

By Kelly Weist

Let’s indulge in a little alternate-universe speculation regarding the upcoming anniversary of the murders at Columbine High School.

First, what would have happened if Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had survived their fantasy massacre? After killing 13 people and injuring 23, as well as terrorizing the entirety of the high school, what would have happened to Harris and Klebold? The O.J. trial would have seemed like a cake walk in comparison. The media storm alone would have been extreme. Defense attorneys would have held a competition to see who would represent them.

Ultimately, we would have been treated to an elaborate fantasy of how being made fun of and violent video games (corporate brainwashing) were the cause of their mental distress. A cottage industry of radical nuts would be advocating their trial as juveniles, so they could be released at age 21 and “resume their lives.” CNN and the broadcast networks would run story after story about “America’s fascination with incarcerating juveniles.” European newspapers would deplore our violent culture and our poor neglected children. Alternative rockers would hold concerts to free them. Ultimately, Harris and Klebold would become the celebrities they clearly wanted to be, and on this, the 10th anniversary, would probably be starring on “I Love Money!” on the VH1 network.

How about a liberal fantasy? Guns of all kinds had been banned by 1999, and no one could legally sell or possess a firearm. Would the 13 victims of Columbine still be alive? Doubtful. First of all, banning guns doesn’t mean that there are no guns. Criminals get guns whenever they want them. Harris and Klebold got at least one gun from a friend, who obtained it from a gun show. Cities that have gun bans, like Chicago and D.C., have the highest murder rates in the country. Banning guns in a country as large as the U.S. is pretty much impossible, and is also a violation of our fundamental rights. Remember those, liberals?

Even if we posit a utopia without guns, the boys would have managed to do what they came there to do. They had several bombs throughout the school. Timothy McVeigh was able to murder many people without a gun, remember?

So do the Columbine massacres prove that guns should be banned in the U.S.? Not by a long shot. Here’s the conservative alternative. When I went to high school, there were at least 20 pickup trucks in the school parking lot with gun racks and rifles in them on any given day during hunting season. Many of them were owned by teachers. Imagine if Dave Sanders or principal Frank D’Angelo had a gun in their car. This anniversary would be similar to one in Wisconsin, where a principal was able to prevent a school shooting using his personal weapon, apprehending the teenage perpetrator. How I wish that had happened.

Hayes Rebuttal

Easy access to guns and weak gun laws contribute to our country’s high gun death rate. The U.S. is adopting only mild gun control measures, mostly just to keep guns out of the wrong hands, not banning them. In 2000, 70 percent of Colorado voters approved Amendment 22, which requires anyone at a gun show to pass a background check to buy a gun. Why oppose this basic preventive step?

As for armed teachers, does Kelly even consider the practical side? Where can a teacher safely store a concealed handgun? Police go through countless hours of training to learn how to use their guns properly in a crisis. How many hours will these armed teachers have to devote to that training? How do you train a teacher that it’s OK to shoot and kill a student? Will teachers become the first targets of a crazed student because they might be armed? Will armed teachers be sued for failing to act?

Why is the only answer to gun violence more guns and more armed people?

Weist Rebuttal

I will agree with Hannah that standardized tests and metal detectors are not what will protect our children. Neither will peace movements. What will is rebuilding the web of community and responsibility that we seem to have lost in this country.

It used to be that the school and the churches were the hubs of the community, where all participated and all agreed that these institutions should be the primary focus of the community. My friends have often heard my lament that even here in Evergreen, it seems that schools and churches get short shrift. Parents want a drop-off place for their kids, and speed off down the hill to their jobs and (if they are honest) their lives. Community leaders pander to the loudest complainers, and other residents pursue their own pleasures and agitate to curtail any activities that inconvenience them in the slightest.

Now is the time that communities must come together. If we could all remember that, and take the raising of our community’s kids as our first priority, we can avoid another Columbine.

Attorney and political activist Kelly Weist has served on the board of directors of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women and is the co-founder of Mountain Republican Women. She is an adjunct professor of political science at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Hannah B. Hayes is a small-business owner and activist with Evergreen Peace. A recent graduate of Leadership Evergreen with a master’s degree in education, Hayes has remained active in this community through her writing and organizing for 35 years.