Sue Klebold’s book on her suicidal son Dylan, who with his psychopathic tormentor Eric Harris killed 13 people and wounded 24 in the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado, is instructional for parents. Watch your children very closely, she advises, which she did, and yet she and her husband Tom still didn’t see.
For there was very little strange behaviour for these good parents to notice. I too believe in the innate decency of my children but follow the principle of the gargoyles of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. A parent’s job is to protect children from evil influences.
Harris was a psychopath; Dylan was led by him. Malice met acquiescence, as journalist Andrew Solomon writes in the foreword.
Sue Klebold is a broken human now, Job-like after 36 lawsuits, a divorce, financial ruin, breast cancer, and an almost-incapacitating anxiety that made it torture for her to speak in public after 17 years of hatred from neighbours and strangers.
“Like many women,” she writes in A Mother’s Reckoning, “I was raised to think first about others.” Her book is an attempt to apologize to the families of the students her son killed, nothing more than that. In this tiny sector of the damage wrought, she may have succeeded.
So what? Even if her book encourages parents to take a closer look at their teenagers, some will pass scrutiny, get a gun and slaughter.
It is absurd of Klebold not to mention the omnipresence of guns in American life — Columbine wouldn’t have happened if a friend of Dylan’s hadn’t bought three guns — but then the parents of the dead would have said she was using the gun issue as blame displacement.
And in a nation where the hopeless hapless Jeb! Bush just tweeted a photo of his personally inscribed handgun beside the word “America,” perhaps they’d be right. Is this Bush’s mute effort at manliness? A depressed candidate’s cry for help? Is he about to shoot up a school?
Columbines spread, pumping young blood across the U.S. Who could have predicted Seung-Hui Cho killing 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Adam Lanza killing 26 adults and small children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012?
Foreigners, that’s who. Most foreigners find American gun worship peculiar to the point of depravity, and the idea that mentally damaged young people could have access to guns is anathema. The New York Times reported in December that most “guns used in 15 recent U.S. mass shootings were bought legally and with a federal background check. At least eight gunmen had criminal histories or documented mental health problems.”
Nancy Lanza bought guns for her mute shut-off boy and took him to shooting galleries. Elliot Rodger, the young Santa Barbara rampage killer long diagnosed as mentally disabled, had bought his three guns legally. Anders Breivik, the mentally disabled Norwegian killer of 77 young people in 2011, bought his ammunition online from the U.S. and wrote that he envied lax American gun laws.
In 2015, Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the New Yorker about “the school-shooting tradition.” Thanks to Columbine, he said, the killers are now people with far higher “thresholds of violence.”
“Boys who would ordinarily never think of firing a weapon at their classmates” now join in, a twist on psychologist Mark Granovetter’s 1978 theory of how riots expand. The first person to throw a rock is very different from the last one who does it.
When Gladwell lists the mental conditions of school killers, his conclusion is horrifying. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of monster boys eager to kill. “It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.”
The most important duty of a government is to protect citizens from violent death. Only gun control has a chance of ending school shootings like the recent one in La Loche, Sask.
The University of Texas at Austin has been forced by gun laws to permit students to carry concealed handguns on campus. It is an invitation to massacre.
As mass killings become more common, police in western nations have to change their approach to prevention rather than clean-up. Unless Hillary Clinton becomes president, the U.S. will be bloodier than ever.
But Canada can and should regulate gun ownership, access within families, and storage. For one thing, hunting rifles should be kept in a regulated storage zone, not in homes. Repeal Harper’s Bill C-42 the “Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act,” allowing restricted and prohibited weapons to be freely transported without a permit. Enhance background mental health checks on anyone applying for or renewing a licence. Ban assault weapons and handguns. In this country, it can be done.