Columbine at 20

I never knew who actually said, "The past is another country" until I looked it up. Turns out it's a quote by the author L.P. Hartley from his novel, The Go-Between and the full quote is, "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there."

I was in third grade when the 1991 shooting on campus happened. I was in my sophomore year of high school when Columbine happened. I remember the pictures of the kids dropping from the second floor window. Running away from the school with their hands on their heads. The band and the choir were both on trips that week, so the next day, the school felt emptier than usual. There were rumors that someone had threatened to bring a gun to school that day and for the first time in my life, I could tell that the adults were nervous. They were doing their best to hide it, but it was tense.

No one did bring a gun to school that day. We had a fund raiser to send...  teddy bears, I think to that other CHS, two states over. I have this memory of seeing the poster board hanging up on the way into the cafeteria.

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. There are so many cleavages and fracture points dotting the landscape of my life. Before November 1st, 1991, after November 1st, 1991. Before Columbine, After Columbine. Before 9/11, After 9/11. I could keep going with this list forever, but every time one of these tragedies hit, we're all changed a little bit. Those who survive them directly carry the burden, but each and every one of us-- we're a little more desensitized, a little more jaded, a little more despairing that any thing will ever change. Thinking about it, trying to picture what kind of a country we were like back then- it's hard. I want to say something about how alive we all were to the possibilities of the post-Cold War world. Anything could happen. It was a time of boundless optimism, but that's not true at all, is it?

I don't like phrases like 'the event that defined a generation'- in fact, I don't like the never ending parade of think pieces about generations and what defines them and their defining characteristics and all that garbage. Some of what is written in them is true, of course, but the sheer amount of them and the tiresome Facebook debates and garbage Twitter memes are just tiresome. All that being said, for people my age who were in high school when it happened, Columbine is the tragedy that defined us. And maybe haunts us a little bit.

It left me with an anathema to guns that took me years to work through. I still don't own firearms today- though now, it's more out of not really feeling like I need one and being unwilling to spend all that money to get one. I never had school lockdown drills- even in the aftermath of Columbine, at least not that I can remember. My children will have to live with them though.

Where are we now? Trapped in an ideological shouting match where we shout the same things at one and other but very carefully avoid actually doing anything. Heaven forbid we try and mitigate the problem somewhat! Heaven forbid we demand that our representatives fulfill their basic functions and legislate! They'll make noise about it, of course, but everyone knows by now that nothing will actually be done.

Twenty years later and what am I left with?

There aren't 38 states that are going to repeal the 2nd Amendment. Wishes and dreams are something I encourage, but not when people are dying. Concentrate on what's possible.

It's becoming increasingly obvious that the laws we do have aren't that effective. Maybe before passing a whole host of new laws, we should figure out what's wrong with the ones we do have first. (Crazy notion, I know.)

People need to educate themselves on this issue. There's plenty of media out there that will spoon feed you their preferred narratives, but they won't be all that interested in the hard data. We've got to do it ourselves, as best we can. Because the data on mass shootings tells a very different story to what we see on television. (I also think that the media needs to change the way they report on these stories, but getting the media to resist sensationalizing tragedy these days is about as realistic as Repealing the 2nd Amendment by next year.)

I believe that schools can be safer without being prisons.

I don't believe that any of our Constitutional Amendments and freedoms are without limits. If you can't shout fire in a crowded theater, the 2nd Amendment can be limited without punishing law abiding gun owners.

I believe we need to figure out what they laws we have are not working before passing new ones.

I believe that when 2/3rds of our gun deaths are due to suicides, we need a mental health care system that's worthy of tackling the problem.

I believe we can do better at solving this problem when we stop shouting at each other and actually listen.

I don't want to write this post again in ten years. I want something to be different. That may be just hope talking, but hope, in the words of Vaclav Havel: "Hope is definitely not the same thing is optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."


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