Rage and Responsibility
by Ari Armstrong
April 22, 1999
Numbing sorrow has begun to oscillate with outrage in the wake of the Columbine tragedy. The outrage takes aim at a wide range of people and phenomenon, some more deserving of criticism than others.
Three sets of legitimate questions have arisen. First, where were the parents? How did these killers get their guns, and how were they able to construct sophisticated bombs in their parents' garage over a period of days? Second, why didn't the police rush the killers? Hundreds of police amassed outside the school, but none seriously engaged the killers. The killing didn't stop until the perpetrators took their own lives. Third, why didn't the school administration or police take warning signs seriously? The killers had threatened to kill other students in the days and months prior to the massacre. They had also maintained a hate-filled web site, complete with a hit list.
Certainly the responsibility for the murders lies solely with the two killers who pulled the triggers and ignited the bombs. However, the question of whether other groups of people might have been able to prevent the atrocity is reasonable, particularly as the answers to that question might prevent violence in the future.
But the outrage is pervasive and it seeks outlets everywhere. Some see general cultural trends as contributing to the violence. Surely such perspectives find some support in reality. However, there is no easy solution to pervasive problems in the culture, and spiritual leaders, families, and individuals will have to struggle with the issue over the course of their lives.
Others lay the tragedy in the hands of fate or God. Maybe God will cause a greater good to come of the tragedy. There is an emotional struggle to make sense of the horror apparent in the voices of radio callers, those interviewed on television, and those one meets personally.
Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, who has no jurisdiction over Littleton, has flagrantly politicized the Columbine tragedy to serve his own desire to further control guns. Speakers at events organized by Webb demonized the National Rifle Association, gun manufacturers, and Colorado citizens who support gun rights, going so far as to assign blame for the Columbine massacre to these groups. Obviously, most of the weapons used by the killers were already illegal. State Representative Doug Dean has been attacked in speeches at Webb's events, and he has been personally threatened by some Colorado residents at his home, even though his concealed gun bill was in no way related to the Columbine tragedy. Drawing on studies from other states with concealed carry laws, Dean argues that concealed carry legislation increases public safety by deterring criminals.
Besides Webb's contribution to the discussion, other dubious proposals to solve school violence include:
A few blame the government education system per se for the tragedy. One man reportedly carried a sign in down-town Denver suggesting the government schools shut down completely. Such arguments are misguided. A few disturbed individuals murder innocent people in all areas of life. However, there may be some credence to the argument that the social and political pressures for every child to attend the same monolithic government school may contribute to social tension within those schools. While clearly not a significant cause of the murders, the point remains that perhaps the disturbed and abusive students ought to be encouraged to withdraw from the school. Government schools have inherent difficulty expelling students with behavioral problems. However, that's as far as the argument can be taken in this situation.
When tears flow and passions flare, anything can become a target for blame. But lynch mobs and their political equivalents are never acceptable. The legitimate questions must be sifted from the imagined problems, and proposed solutions must not cause more harm than they prevent.