The FBI says “there is no longer a threat to the community” after Miami resident Sol Pais, an 18-year-old “infatuated with Columbine,” reportedly was found dead near Mount Evans. Of course, we know that’s not true. Since that high school shooting in Jefferson County 20 years ago, public places across America – and especially schools — are under increasing threat of gun violence.
Imagine, if you will, that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks the National Boxcutter Association worked tirelessly to prevent lawmakers from increasing airport and airline security so that as many people as possible – including those on terror watch lists and with clear histories of mental illness – could continue buying boxcutters and bringing them on planes.
That’s basically been the response of the National Rifle Association to the Columbine High School mass shooting on April 20, 1999. And due to the power of the gun lobby in our badly rigged political system, gun-safety laws have become far more lax since Columbine — not more prohibitive as one would expect.
In response to the Sandyhook Elementary School massacre in 2012, the NRA got lawmakers to defeat even the most commonsense proposals such as universal background checks for all gun purchases, allowing for a careful examination of someone’s criminal, mental health and family history over a period of several days or weeks before allowing them to buy a deadly weapon.
The fact is a young woman with an unhealthy, digitally public obsession with Columbine was able to get on a plane, fly to Colorado, quickly purchase a shotgun, and then elude an FBI manhunt for three days. Yes, that dragnet likely prevented her from carrying out her plan, but the system continues to fail us all and therefore infringes on our basic right to public safety.
The Parkland shooter stated online that it was his career goal to become a professional school shooter, and yet no one stopped him from going into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and fulfilling that exact aspiration.
In addition to universal background checks, there has never been a better argument for a national red flag law like the one lawmakers just passed and Gov. Jared Polis signed in Colorado – making it the 15th state with similar legislation. The Vail Daily recently wrote an editorial supporting the law, and current events have underscored the timeliness of that endorsement.
To take the 9/11 comparison a step further, the United States has taken the threat of more terrorism by radicalized Islamic extremists so seriously that the nation has spent trillions of dollars on ill-advised and ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have not made that region safer. But basic, commonsense security measures at home have prevented another 9/11.
Since Columbine, similarly basic measures have not been enacted to prevent school shootings, while homegrown threats have steadily increased and surpassed the danger of foreign terrorism.
Now the Trump administration is cutting funding to fight domestic terrorism by either white nationalists or mentally ill lone wolves radicalized on the internet and seeking the “glory” of mass casualty shootings in public places.
High time we label school shooters and more white nationalist groups domestic terrorists and demand the same attention to public safety on the home front that we saw globally in the wake of 9/11.