Thomm Quackenbush, author

Columbine

Today is the fifth anniversary of the Columbine School Shootings. I don't quite remember the moment I found out about this event like I did with Kurt Cobain's death but that could be because I was very high on 4/20/99. It was the big 4/20 after all. I do recall getting home and being very paranoid that my parents wanted to talk to me about the incident and I was petrified they would notice that I was stoned. I wasn't paying very close attention to what they said and I can only assume that they told me about the shootings. I am not trying to make light of the situation, I am just reporting how it actually happened. As soon as I realized what had occurred, I was totally engrossed in the news coverage for weeks.

Before I go on I want to point out that no matter how it may seem, I do not defend and/or support Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in what they did. It was a horrible event that hopefully will never take place again. Harris and Klebold were obviously very disturbed individuals that did an appalling thing. Killing people is wrong and there are no ifs, ands or buts about that. Putting all of that aside, I do feel that the whole catastrophe could have been avoided had officials dealt with Eric and Dylan appropriately.

Watching the news over the days and weeks following 4/20/99, I couldn't help but notice that the more I learned about the two shooters, the more I was sure that I would have been friends with them if they had attended my high school. There was so much in them that reminded me of my friends and even of myself; the music they listened to, the way they dressed, how their peers treated them, and to a lesser degree, their hatred for the world. I heard so much about how they were bullied and tortured for being different and I understand how livid this must have made them. Being ostracized by your school doesn't usually lead to a healthy outlook on life or your peers. I was angry that no one seemed to be pointing out that although they committed an almost unforgivable crime, they WERE treated unfairly. I agree that security in school is important but cracking down on bullying is important too. I don't blame the bullies and I CERTAINLY don't think "they got what they deserved" but I can't help but consider the notion that if Eric and Dylan had been treated better, they might not have gone on a rampage. Children need to be taught, at a young age, that everyone needs to be respected and that picking on people is just plain unacceptable.

There was a lot of talk about what was to blame for the event; music, video games, movies, and/or T.V. (not one mention of bullying). I could not fathom why anyone would even think of blaming these aspects of our culture. So many people watch, listen, play, and do the same things that Eric and Dylan did and don't go out and shoot up their school. People wanted to blame the parents and I think the only blame that can be placed on them is not getting their sons therapy. To me it is obvious that Eric and Dylan were mentally ill and that is why they went on a murdering spree. All of us were bullied at one time or another and most of us don't kill people over it, but that still doesn't make bullying okay. The name Marilyn Manson was raised as a possible cause as soon as it was made public that the boys liked the band. I think that blaming Marilyn Manson is pure ignorance. I listened to Manson for years and I never once interpreted any of their songs as a call for violence. I understand that it is comforting and easy to blame something or someone in any traumatic situation but sometimes the causes off a tragedy aren't so easily defined. It sucks to have to think that Eric and Dylan were crazy and that this was the main motivation for the violence they dealt out to their classmates. We can't yell at a mental illness, we can't ban a mental illness from a state, we can't silence a mental illness, and a mental illness is too insidious to be erased by any casual means. Mental illness wasn't the only cause at that. It seems to me that there were countless things in both of the boys' lives that brought forward this event and countless other events that had the potential to stop it. No one person, one band, one video game, one movie, or one TV show can be blamed. If we have to blame someone we should blame ourselves and our entire society; every one of us, in an odd way, could have prevented this, given very specific circumstances. But that didn't happen, no one stepped in and stopped it and now 15 people are dead and a country will never forget how they died. You may notice that when the number of victims is mentioned, the number we usually hear is 13. I am using the number 15 because I feel that Dylan and Eric should be included in the tally of the dead but I do not think that they should be part of any memorial because I feel it would be disrespectful to the families who lost their loved ones at the hands of the two.

I have been watching some interviews with current students from Columbine on the 24 hour news channels and it is making me very angry that the only interviews that seem to be making it onto TV are from "popular" kids who say that people are treating each other much better. I have seen other interviews, mainly in documentaries, with more "unpopular" kids who say that things have not changed and they have even gotten worse. The media is trying to silence these kids because letting them speak publicly might make waves and force us to look at how Eric and Dylan were treated. If that aspect of this case continues to be ignored we are doomed to have a repeat event. Friends of the two are still called murders as they walk the streets.

With this issue, comes the issue of gun control. In case anyone hasn't noticed, I have very liberal political views, VERY LIBERAL, but when it comes to guns I am a bit moderate if not a touch conservative. I was raised in a house with guns, I shot my first gun when I was 3 and I do not support strict gun control. I do support background checks at gun stores AND gun shows and I also support mandatory training courses but outlawing guns - NO. People need to realize that making something illegal doesn't make it unattainable. Drugs are a perfect example of this; drugs are readily available if you want them bad enough and so are illegal guns. I think gun control is an almost unimportant issue in the Columbine debate, Eric and Dylan could have gotten guns if they wanted them bad enough no matter how many laws were in place that were designed to prevent it. However, I don't feel that guns and ammunition should be sold in a store like K-Mart or Wal-Mart or any store with the word Mart in it. Guns and ammunition should only be sold by experts, not acne scarred 16 year olds. But even if K-mart had not sold the bullets they would have been acquired somewhere else. The only way gun control can reduce crime is if every single gun in the entire world was destroyed and we erased the knowledge from anyone's head who knew how to make them, and even then, some would figure something out.

A question that is facing us now, five years later is "How have we changed?" I see no significant, purposeful, or useful change. I see no improvements and I see no efforts being made to prevent events just like this from happening again. Sure, kids who are making threats are being suspended from school but how does that stop a disturbed individual from waiting across the street from school with an assault rifle. Unfortunately, it doesn't. I can offer no quick solution but I can make this observation, in most, if not all, of the school shootings over the past 10 years, there has been but one common denominator - the shooters were bullied. Maybe we should spend less time trying to avoid the result of bullying and some more time trying to raise children who have the ability to respect one another.



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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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