In the aftermath of Tucson... do we have the courage to stay awake for change this time?
It has been nearly one month since the tragic shootings there, and I'm worried now that the headlines are fading, so too will our concern for the issue of gun violence in our nation. Time and time again, we're shocked by the news of these horrific events but we quickly move on, forgetting the toll they've taken... the lives they've destroyed.
I was reminded of this recently when I attended a screening of a new documentary called 13 Families - Life After Columbine. It showcases the families of the victims of Columbine and how they continue to mourn, heal and learn from the event that changed their lives forever.
The theater was packed. I was one of the last people inside and yet there were two empty seats on either side of me. As I situated myself in my seat, I looked up and found two pregnant ladies entering my aisle. Needless to say it was a tight squeeze in there for the three of us. I said to myself, "Am I really about to watch this subject matter, parents losing their kids, while bookended by two emotional mommies-to-be?"
It was gut wrenching. Viewing this emotionally raw and infuriating material was enough alone. But viewing it with mothers on the verge of bringing new children into this world was devastating. And due to my close proximity to them, I couldn't help but consider their point of view. From the start they wept and wept. Moments in the film were so stabbing. I tried to hold in my emotions but it was no use. They sobbed and I sobbed. They shared their tissues with me. It hurts now just thinking about it.
One's heart breaks again and again while watching the film and witnessing the impact that the loss of these 13 lives has had on their families. One unbearable irony is seeing that some of the shooting victims were actually trying to promote awareness of the very elements that brought their deaths.
Take victim Rachel Scott for example. She wrote an essay for class at Columbine that challenged her readers, 'I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.' Her father Darrell Scott says, 'Her message is that there is no place for the kind of anger and violence that happened at Columbine.' As far as the cause for Columbine, he says 'I really believe it's the influences on the hearts of our young people.'
Two weeks before the shooting, victim Daniel Mauser said 'Dad did you know there are loopholes in the Brady Bill?' The Brady Act requires that background checks be conducted on individuals before a firearm may be purchased from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer unless an exception applies. Daniel's father, Tom Mauser, continues to fight for gun control and Daniel's ideals, literally walking in his son's shoes door to door petitioning for gun control legislation. He says, 'You have to look at prevention, you have to look at hope, you have to take steps to keep guns away from these people.'
Precious children they were. And significant adults they could have become.
As I left the theater, I couldn't help but think that this movie should secure a place in school curriculums across the nation. In particular, it should be mandatory viewing in high schools and on college campuses so that our youth can truly understand the consequences of these acts and witness the grief of the families who walk with the residual pain everyday. The film's emotional impact alone might serve as a deterrent to these acts and help foster the proper preventative education we need.
All of the 13 Columbine families are unified in their hope for us to all put our heads together and come up with a solution to end this type of violence. Be it in a high school, a college campus or Safeway parking lot.
Betty Shoels, Aunt of victim Isaiah Shoels, says 'We need to step up as a nation to teach these kids to seek God's love and the family love and where to go when they need attention. Can't let evil overrule goodness. Maybe as a country we could truly wake up? And that's what I truly hope.'
Many people share this same hope... but what can we do? And can we do enough to make a difference?
On the morning of April 16th, 2007, I heard the heartbeat of my first child in utero. Then, as my wife and I exited the hospital, we watched the Virginia Tech massacre unfolding on the TV in the lobby.
When the shooter's motives were exposed, and more specifically his manifesto, it was obvious that his act was a tribute to and motivated by Columbine. The shooter said it himself. He references the opinions of the Columbine shooters and states their names in his manifesto. He chose April for his heinous act to acknowledge the anniversary of Columbine. One atrocity indeed lead to another.
In the coming days, I wondered, how easy is it for a would-be shooter to get their hands on the Columbine information? In order to deepen their empathy, stage a copy-cat crime, give full credit where it is due, one would need a copy of that Columbine case file and manifesto, right? Then I remembered I had seen it on our government's Freedom of Information Act website. One website, one search "Columbine" and one click of the mouse and the hatred and sickness of the Columbine shooters is all yours to study, internalize, idolize and misinterpret. No restrictions. No fees.
Here it is:
It's a boat load of darkly empowering information made so easily available to everyone on the planet, including our highly impressionable and sometimes unstable youth. It would seem one should have to work a little harder in order to access information like this.
Should this link be available without restrictions to the public? Is this one of those very questions that prevents us from getting to the bottom of gun violence? One where we debate for a little while, disagree and then do nothing? Civil liberties versus public safety again?
I had every intention of posing this question almost four years ago. Unfortunately it was me who fell asleep instead of staying awake as Virginia Tech faded from the headlines. I don't have the answers, but I'm convinced that together we can find them. We just need to stay awake.