This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting and like it says in the title, not much has changed in regards to what happened on April 20, 1999. School shootings still occur and there has been little in the way of gun laws. Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti- guns, even if I was, I am realistic enough to know that the Second Amendment will never be repealed and Americans will still own guns. However, I am in favour of stricter gun laws.
My biggest concern and as an American living in the UK, I am a little embarrassed by this, is that the young man who carried out the school shooting in Parkland, Florida last year was old enough to buy an assault rife but wasn’t old enough to buy a beer. In the weeks following Parkland, I pointed out the fact that in the early 1980s, politicians at all levels of government were quick to use drunk driving offenses among the youth as a reason to raise the drinking age to 21. Surely, school shootings are enough of a justification to raise the age of gun ownership to the same. A twenty-one year old is more likely to be more responsible with guns than and eighteen year old. I know that simply raising the gun ownership age won’t completely solve the problem but it’s a damn good place to start.
While the gun debate goes on, what Columbine did was act as a guideline for school security, used as an excuse to profile and target so-called “weirdos” and outcasts and unfortunately, used as a model for future school shootings. Fact mingled with myth on what happened at Columbine and what might have caused it has been in the psyche of Americans for the past two decades.
Another contribution made by the shooting and other school shootings was that it enriched the literary world. School shootings has become a sub-genre of books with at least 51 books written about it. My own book, “He Was Weird,” is included among them. However, I don’t class my book as a book about a school shooting, I say it’s about a boy with mental health issues, namely Asperger’s Syndrome, who gets bullied on account of those issues and uses the school shooting to get his revenge.
One reader has fed back that the chapter where the school shooting occurs was taken right from the Columbine shooting. If this was the case, then it was purely accidental. I purposely avoided reading anything about Columbine so I wouldn’t be accused of copying it. Major differences I will point out is that in “He Was Weird,” my shooter doesn’t use any explosive devices. Columbine was a successful shooting because it was a failed bombing attempt. When writing my story, I thought about having a teacher get shot but I dismissed it on account of accusations of copying the famous real life shooting. One more big difference is that my shooting occurs on the playground while the other shooters went into the school to carry out their massacre.
If anything, resemblances to Columbine occur after the shooting. Following that shooting, there were two sets of parents whose daughters were killed on that fateful day, who went on tour of religious festivals pimping their daughters’ tragic story that it was their daughter who said she believed in Jesus right before she got shot. However, an investigation showed that the girl who actually said that survived the shooting and decided not to use it as a cash cow for God Incorporated. After the “He Was Weird” shooting, there is a similar story involving a set of rosary beads. Then there is the NRA convention one month later. A similar event occurred in Denver soon after Columbine.
While I have done very little research on the 1997 school shooting in West Peducah, Kentucky, there is some altered events from that shooting which appear in my book. Before the shooting, my main character is branded gay in the school newspaper just like that shooter and after, there are lawsuits aplenty with someone trying to sue Microsoft because they claim that because the shooter played games like Age of Empires, they influenced him to carry out his shooting.
Many books might have been written about school shootings both fact and fiction but that doesn’t change the fact that they occur too often in America and now they are happening more in other countries, even if the UK media chooses to ignore the latter fact. However, the one thing which will play in the back of my mind when I hear or read about a school shooting is, “This could have been me.” The components of what can drive a kid to carry out such a thing were present. The bullying, being labeled as a homo, made an outcast, these were all there during those three years of hell. Fortunately, two main things weren’t. I had absolutely no access to guns and when I was experiencing this pain, school shootings weren’t yet a problem because they were still more than two decades away from hitting middle class white suburbia. Therefore, the thought of shooting up my school hadn’t entered into my head because in America, that’s when something truly becomes a problem. Still, twenty years has gone by since Columbine and no real progress has been made. I hope it doesn’t take another twenty before anything changes.