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April 27, 2009

April is the Cruelest Month

I have reached the age where I sometimes have difficulty remembering what I did the day before yesterday. However, shootings over this past weekend at Hampton University and the University of Georgia have vividly brought me back to me the events of Tuesday, April 20, 1999, with precision.

I will never be able to erase the memories of visiting Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, the day after the horrific mass shooting. The things that stick in my mind are the faces of the students and parents trying to make sense of the tragedy; the sight of all those crosses placed on a hill outside the school; and the school parking lot turned into a makeshift monument with flowers, cards, signs and teddy bears from across the nation. Another image that haunts me is the media circus that surrounded the school. An added insult was a few super-righteous religious zealots who seized upon Columbine to make a faux case for religious martyrdom.

Journalist Dave Cullen has just released a comprehensive account of the massacre. The book is simply titled, Columbine. You can read a review of the book by Gary Kris from the Washington Post.

Cullen claims to expose several myths about the Columbine tragedy, but one piece of reporting that was true was the ease with which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were able to acquire the guns used in the shootings. Harris and Klebold had young friends of theirs purchase these weapons at Denver-area gun shows from private sellers—cash and carry, no questions asked. One of these friends, Robyn Anderson, later said, "It was too easy. I wish it would have been more difficult. I wouldn't have helped them buy the guns if I had faced a criminal background check."

Colorado closed the Gun Show Loophole by referendum one year after the shootings, and for that we can credit the courageous work of many of the students and parents of the victims at Columbine. They banded together to take positive action to stem the easy availability of guns in our society and we should learn from their example. Now that federal legislation to close the loophole has been introduced in Congress by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), we have an opportunity to prevent thousands of criminals and other dangerous individuals from buying guns with no oversight whatsoever.

We should seize it, and ensure that we will have something positive to reflect upon as a country when the twentieth anniversary of Columbine is observed ten years from now.

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain...
I will show you fear in a handful of dust

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

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