Local View: Gun advocates ignore lessons of Columbine
Sunday, April 16, 2006
By Heidi Yewman
This summer I will attend my 20-year high school reunion, and Topic A
will be as it has been for the past seven years the massacre and what
hasn't happened since.
Seven years ago, this Thursday (April 20), two teenage gunmen
massacred 12 students and one teacher at my school, Columbine High in
Colorado. That teacher, my high school basketball coach Dave Sanders,
bled to death after being shot in the chest; 24 other people were
It was a terrible, sad day that sparked massive debate regarding guns
and gun laws in the United States. Much discussion also centered on
the nature of high school cliques and bullying, violent movies and
video games, but mostly on guns like the two shotguns, the assault
rifle, and the TEC-9 assault pistol that the two troubled kids at
Columbine used to shoot their victims before killing themselves.
So what exactly has changed as a result of all that despair,
discussion and debate?
Colorado and Oregon immediately passed initiatives requiring
background checks at gun shows. Today 32 states still do not require
background checks on gun purchases at gun shows including Washington.
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in 1994 and was not renewed,
putting guns like Tech-9s back on the streets.
In 2005 Congress passed and the president signed into law a measure
that, astonishingly, provides immunity from prosecution for gun
manufacturers and sellers.
The National Rifle Association is pushing hard to pass "take-your-
guns-to-work" laws in all 50 states that would turn companies into
criminals if they barred guns on their private property. So far the
legislation has been introduced in 11 states.
Seven states have passed legislation that eliminates a citizen's duty
to avoid a threat, and allow the use of deadly force before other
options when a gun user simply feels threatened.
You've got to give the NRA credit. It is an effective lobbying
organization that fights hard for its beliefs and has enjoyed
remarkable success in the past seven years. But at what price? If
only common sense had lobbyists.
A massacre every day
Since the Columbine tragedy, 210,000 people have died in America due
to gun violence, and school shootings continue to occur without much
notice. Can you even remember the names of the schools where kids
were shot and killed in the past seven years? It's become routine
news, sandwiched between the latest from Iraq and the weather.
Since 9/11, America has monitored library cards, listened in on cell
phone calls, tracked fertilizer purchases, and made us take our shoes
off before boarding an airplane, but it has done almost nothing to
make it harder for either terrorists or criminals to buy guns. We
continue to put the right to own a Tech-9 over common sense
precautions to protect our nation and our kids. I find such inaction
Columbine did mobilize millions of moms across the nation, and a
small, vocal minority is railing against this country's gun culture.
In March, 32 states received grades of D's or F's in the Brady
Campaign's 2005 annual report card. Washington state earned a D-plus
and Oregon got a C-minus because they haven't passed common sense gun
laws that protect our children and families. Do we perhaps think
that, because our memories have faded, the threat is any less real?
Don't we know that 10 of the 19 school shootings since Columbine
happened in the spring? Didn't Benjamin Franklin say that the
definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and
expecting different results?
On April 20, 1999 I saw my high school turned into a morgue for
innocent teenagers. I truly thought the carnage would prompt some
I was wrong.
I guess we're all just hoping that our child, our school isn't next.
But wishing won't make it so. What we can do is call on our
legislators to pass a law requiring background checks at gun shows in
2007, legislation that we have been trying to pass in Washington
I wonder if at my 30-year reunion the massacre at Columbine High
School will still be "the worst school shooting in U.S. history."
Sadly, I doubt it.
Heidi Yewman is the president of Citizens for a Safe Community- a
Vancouver, a group working to reduce gun violence. She lives in
Vancouver and is writing a book about the impact of gun violence.