By Annie Lane
The 1999 Columbine High School shooting jolted me. I was 15 at the time. That is, I was still immortal and arrogant in the way that only a teen can be. Despite this, I remember being jolted by the violence of it, and the permanence. The kids killed were my age; they were essentially moments away from entering into the adult world, however unprepared, just like me.
The black-and-white cafeteria footage that ran on a seemingly endless loop across news stations nationwide was spell-binding. It was simultaneously real while perfectly mimicking Hollywood violence – or was it the other way around?
Columbine’s Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were outcasts, no doubt. But I distinctly remember gawking at the idea of that being their motive. Really? I was a Thespian for Heaven’s sake. If your adolescent goal is to receive near-constant ridicule, join the theatre.
Plus, the main entrance to our theatre opened up into the quad, which happened to be where all the jocks and their pretty girlfriends hung out. Exiting those doors often meant being an easy target – especially if you were in costume and taking a break from rehearsal.
Yeah, high school definitely wasn’t the greatest. I would scoff when people told me to appreciate it, for I would soon look back on those days as the best years of my life. I never really have. I’ve longed for the days of no bills and a copious amount of free time, but never high school itself. I’ve since walked my old campus a few times, and have always been grateful I didn’t have to wait for the bell to ring to leave. To me, high school was full of bullies, insecurities and awkward moments when you just wanted to be anyone else but yourself.
But it was never a literal battlefield.
I never felt the need to murder anyone. I glared at them, gave them the “California hello” on more than one occasion, but ending their outwardly perfect lives didn’t cross my mind. So I just couldn’t understand the spoiled, selfish and senseless act that, as we would later find out, marked the birth of school shootings as a norm.
There were so many things wrong with the Columbine shooting. The teens’ easy access to guns and ammunition through a private dealer. Their seemingly completely unaware parents. The gut feelings among schoolmates and community members about Eric and Dylan that went unspoken and unacted upon.
Back then I don’t remember the country being as politically divided as it is now. Sure, maybe I was too young to know what was really going on, but I recall we used to be able to at least communicate our differences. But in my memory following Columbine, there was an ever-so-sharp division that formed between the right and left regarding gun rights that has never gone away. The so-called political victories for responsible gun ownership have been far too inadequate when compared to the grief and horror that has wreaked havoc on Americans since.
In fact, it would only be a mere 13 years later we as a nation paid dearly for this inadequacy of action at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The killing of 20 cherub-faced 6- and 7-year-olds and six faculty members marked the second deadliest mass shooting by one individual in the history of the United States – surpassed only by Virginia Tech.
Article after article describe shooter Adam Lanza as being unstable, unadjusted and withdrawn from the world. Yet it doesn’t appear that any real precautions were ever taken. In fact, quite the opposite. While the guns and ammunition were all legally obtained by his mentally stable mother, they were completely accessible to Adam. What then, is the point?
Square one of responsible gun ownership is the universal implementation of background and mental health checks. The next logical step would be applying that to all members of a household who have any potential of coming into contact with said guns.
Therefore, in the particular case of Sandy Hook, I am left wondering where exactly I should place my anger. Toward Adam Lanza, a cold-hearted, mentally-disturbed individual, who went on a premeditated killing spree? Or his mother, the person who essentially put the guns in his hands? I guess, despite how completely preventable the tragedy, Nancy Lanza is still a victim.
The events of Sandy Hook is truly impossible to grasp. For me, the only positive that came out of that day (and I use this term with great caution and sensitivity) was that Adam killed himself.
I can’t, of course, speak for the families, but I didn’t need a trial to drag out the pain. No reason Adam Lanza could’ve given would’ve been good enough, or even comprehensible. It wouldn’t bring back the lives of those precious children or the school faculty that perished defending them. And the less time evil like that is in the world, the better.
To date, there have been dozens of mass-scale school shootings since Columbine, and today marks the second anniversary of those lost at Sandy Hook. This week at the SDFP we will be focusing on gun violence in America, as well as policy — or lack thereof — in the hopes of creating a open dialogue among progressives. A moment of heartfelt remembrance and a voice for changes is the least we can offer in a country that refuses to take meaningful action.
All photos taken from Facebook or handouts released to the media.