It’s been 20 years since the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado shocked the nation. The disturbing news of a young woman who was infatuated with the Columbine attack flying to Colorado, and buying a shotgun, reminds us how much healing we have left to do. The massive police hunt in the Denver area and the closing over hundreds of schools reminds us how much we need to change in this country.
A lot has changed, though—some things for the better, some for the worse—over the past two decades. Here’s a list of five things that have changed since Columbine.
1. The NRA has become extreme
In 1999, just a week and a half after the tragic massacre at Columbine, the NRA hosted its annual convention in Denver. What they said there might surprise you. It actually sounded like common sense:
“We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero tolerance, totally safe schools.” —Wayne LaPierre, NRA Executive Vice President
LaPierre went on to say “that means no guns in America’s schools, period, with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel.” We agree with this reasonable sentiment, and so do most Americans.
But fast forward 20 years and the NRA’s position couldn’t be more different. Today, the NRA wants more guns in America’s schools. NRA leaders advocate for abolishing gun-free zones and push the dangerous policy of arming teachers, coaches, and janitors—increasing the sheer number of guns in schools while broadening the categories of who’s allowed to have one. All this despite the fact that students, teachers, and parents all broadly oppose arming teachers, and our comprehensive analysis tallies at least 60 incidents of guns mishandled by adults in schools in the last 5 years. More guns in schools will make students less safe, not more safe. Twenty years ago the NRA knew this, but they’ve since changed their tune.
2. Gun violence has gotten worse nationwide.
You might have seen a few of these statistics: Nearly 40,000 Americans died from gun violence in 2017—the highest level in 40 years. Six of the ten deadliest mass shootings have happened in the last ten years. Americans are 25 times more likely to die from a gun homicide than people in other peer countries. The numbers are staggering, and they’re only getting worse. Lost in the sheer scale of these numbers are the individual tragedies of each life lost to gun violence, the sisters and brothers and sons and daughters and fathers and mothers who can never come home again. Today, on average, 100 Americans die from gun violence every day.
Meanwhile, the NRA has moved to the fringe and pushed its “more guns everywhere” agenda, and it’s done nothing to stem the tide of gun violence in America. And Americans have noticed—the NRA is less popular than ever before.
3. Gun violence in schools is getting worse, too.
Since Columbine, there have been 730 incidents of gun violence at schools where guns have been discharged or brandished, resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries among teachers, educators, and other people on school campuses. In 2018, there were more incidents of gun violence and more gun deaths at schools than any other year on record. In no other developed nation do students face these unprecedented levels of gun violence in their schools. Our students deserve a country where school shootings don’t feel inevitable.
A number of laws can prevent gun violence in schools. Child access prevention laws encourage safe storage of firearms by holding adults accountable when kids gain access to their guns. Extreme risk protection order laws allow family members and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily disarm individuals at elevated risk of harming themselves or others. Raising the minimum age to purchase semiautomatic rifles, or long guns generally, would help to prevent individuals at increased risk of violence from accessing dangerous weapons that could be used in school shootings. There are solutions to this epidemic—we just need leaders with the courage to enact them.
4. Gun violence is having devastating effects on young people.
Since Columbine, more than 226,000 K–12 students in at least 233 schools have been exposed to school shootings. A student’s chance of dying in a school shooting reached its highest level in at least 25 years. And millions of children have been exposed to lockdowns, the majority of which are connected to threats of gun violence on or near school campuses.
In 2018, more than 4.1 million students experienced at least one lockdown drill. Lockdowns often engender fear and panic in students forced to hide under desks and imagine what they would do, whether they would run or hide and what they would text their parents, if the worst came to pass. Students now report being more worried about school shootings than fitting in with peers or facing peer pressure.
The devastating consequence is a generation of young people growing up in fear. One student put this reality in stark relief after the shooting at her high school in Santa Fe, Texas: “I always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here too.” It shouldn’t be this way, and it doesn’t have to be.
This is gut-wrenching. pic.twitter.com/vC8Nea3NVr
— James West (@jameswest2010) May 18, 2018
5. Americans have had enough.
In the 20 years since Columbine, the NRA has become an extreme organization, favoring the proliferation of guns in public places at the expense of public safety. But Americans have had enough of the fear mongering and enough of the violence. Public support for stronger gun laws is higher than it’s been in years, and voters elected gun safety candidates up and down the ballet in 2018.
Now we have a gun safety majority in the U.S. House of Representatives that’s taking swift action, from passing universal background checks, to addressing the Charleston loophole, to passing the Violence Against Women Act and closing the boyfriend loophole. Twenty years after Columbine, we continue to engage every single day in the long, hard process of changing our gun laws.
That’s how we’ll truly honor those who have lost their lives to this crisis, in Columbine and every day since: by taking action to make our country safer.
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