Columbine Parents Speak Out for Liberty, Self-Responsibility

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

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Columbine Parents Speak Out for Liberty, Self-Responsibility

by Ari Armstrong, September 1999

The spin doctors of big-government want you to believe that, since the Columbine tragedy, "the public" has been clamoring for more gun control laws and more restrictions on individual liberty. But it just ain't so.

Some members of the public have called for more restrictive laws, and certainly many members of anti-freedom lobby groups have done so. But many others, including several Columbine parents who lost children, have advocated the preservation of liberty and a return to individual responsibility.

Of course, public opinion -- the majority view -- says little about justice or the truth of an issue. A majority of Germans voted for Hitler; a majority of 19th Century Southerners advocated slavery. Besides, public opinion is impossible to determine. The percentage of Americans who support more gun controls depends on who's taking the poll and which questions are asked.

As Lew Rockwell of the Ludwig von Mises Institute points out, only about a third of those called for polls agree to answer the questions anyway. That automatically introduces a heavy bias into any poll result. Who's more likely to hang up the phone: the individualist who guards privacy carefully, or the conformist who's good at following directions? Gun owners fit predominantly within the first category. In addition, many who answer poll questions give "politically correct" responses in line with the views of the social elite. This tendency is exacerbated by the fact that the identity of those taking the poll is impossible to verify by those answering the questions. With the anti-gun lobby crying shrilly for the prohibition of firearms, surely many are hesitant to reveal personal beliefs to strangers.

Even if a majority of the population did support more anti-gun laws, that wouldn't necessarily reflect deep-rooted beliefs. The opinions of many are volatile, based more on short-range emotions than on reasoned reflection. Some of the support for new anti-gun laws can be attributed to the failure of the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party to articulate the case for gun rights. These are the two groups many look to for leadership on the issue of guns. Neither organization has adequately explained to the public how gun controls empower criminals and help disarm honest citizens. Neither will say boldly what has been carefully proved: that an armed society is a safe society. Both organizations are quick to make mindless compromises, which only gives the anti-gun groups control of the debate.

Still, despite the failure of some to make a principled case for the right of self-defense, many remain committed to the ideals of liberty. If the anti-gun activists are correct, public tragedy leads people to run to the government to ask for more laws and more centralized social control. We would expect, then, that those most affected by tragedy would be the biggest advocates of a strong State. Instead, several Columbine parents who lost children expressed skepticism that new social-control laws would do any good. They predominantly advocated self-governance and individual responsibility.

Darrell Scott, father of a girl killed at Columbine, told a Congressional committee that gun control is not the answer to violence. He said, "[W]hen something as terrible as Columbine's tragedy occurs, politicians immediately look for a scapegoat such as the NRA. They immediately seek to pass more restrictive laws that continue to erode away our personal and private liberties."

On June 19, in a piece entitled, "Message to the Summit [on Youth Violence]," The Rocky Mountain News published the comments of seven other parents who lost children at Columbine. (The piece is worth reading simply to better-understand the feelings of this group that has lost so much. It's hard not to cry continually while reading the words.) Rich Petrone wrote:

I don't think new gun laws or going after Hollywood, video games and the music industry are the only answers. It begins in the home. As parents, we are responsible for our children's actions. The answer is not the government passing more laws restricting our freedoms.

Bruce and Dawn Beck resisted calling for more social controls, favoring instead personal action.

Was it the guns' fault? Do we need more laws to make legal acquisition of guns more difficult? ... Was it exposure to media violence? ... Do we need more school security? ... Was it nobody's fault? ... Is it everybody's fault? ... You cannot always be in control of the circumstances that affect your life... Take control of the one thing you can -- your own life. You can live and you can love, and in the end, that may be the only thing you need to do, and the consequences of those acts will guide you through. Love yourself. Love your family. Love one another. And never ever forget the 13 beautiful lives that were sacrificed so that we all might be given another chance to change our lives, take control of ourselves, and finally get it right this time.

Brad and Misty Bernall expressed similar sentiments.

In what ways are we personally [willing], as couples and families, to change? Where are the roots of violence in our own lives and homes? Shouldn't we first examine ourselves? And who of us has the courage to really live by our convictions?

Brian Rohrbough called for a return to Biblical principles as expressed in the Ten Commandments. He wrote that Jefferson County School Superintendent Jane Hammond is guilty of breaking those rules, and by extension, teaching children to do the same.

Jane Hammond is a liar. She lied when she said the shooting would cost the district $50 million... She cares only about money, power and her political future. Parents, it's time to show our kids that there are consequences to doing the wrong thing... We don't have to tolerate this abuse from public officials!

Vonda and Michael Shoels too called for more parental responsibility. They left room for passing new gun control laws, but downplayed the significance of doing so.

Those who killed our son should not have had access to the weapons they used. Clearly, guns were a contributing factor. Guns are not, however, the central issues. Enforce existing laws and try to understand that it was the vile hatred for fellow human beings of all colors that actually pulled the trigger and detonated the hate bombs... We must take back our parenthood responsibilities... We must teach our children the difference between right and wrong.

The letter of Rick and Sue Townsend seems to evenly split responsibility between the killers, social factors, and the parents. This letter and one other one clearly advocate more gun control.

These were two sick minds that were seduced by media violence and to whom guns were too easily available. These were families and friends too were either too naive or too scared to probe into why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wanted these weapons and were so fascinated by destruction.

The final letter, by Tom and Linda Mauser, is clearly anti-individualist.

Some will say, "Is it fair to ask for help from parents whose children are not violent? Is it fair to ask schools, who already have the burden of teaching? Is it fair to ask the entertainment industry, when only a fraction of children are significantly influenced by violent portrayals? Is it fair to ask gun owners who are responsible and law-abiding?" Well, of course it isn't "fair." But it is necessary... This is a shared problem calling for shared sacrifices.

This quote is remarkable for its direct appeal to collectivist morality. Justice for the individual is to be sacrificed to social utilitarianism. The peaceful majority are to be controlled by the political establishment so that the violent few can be better regulated. There's a presumption that all good must come from group action, coupled with a conceptual inability to see that individuals are mostly responsible for stopping violence. The message is that one is guilty by association and can only be delivered by association.

But collectivism is false. There is no collective mind, there is no collective standard of morality. There is no way for a central power to achieve universal good. Individuals may cooperate in groups, but they may not be transcended by the group.

In reality, two of the school shootings of recent years were stopped by individuals with firearms. In reality, individuals with guns thwart crime between 700,000 and 2.5 million times per year. Centralized social control doesn't work. Arguably, one contributing factor to the recent school shootings is the anti-gun laws themselves, which have disarmed victims and created safe-havens for criminals. In cities and states in which individuals retain or regain the right of self-defense, crime always plummets. In Australia, which recently disarmed individuals by banning guns, homicides have climbed 3.2%, assaults 8.6%, armed robberies 44%, and home break-ins 50%.

Individualism works. Collectivism doesn't.

The opinions of the Columbine parents are similar to trends nation-wide. Many believe in individual rights and individual responsibility. Some advocate greater social control and less individual freedom. And some are in the middle, trying to balance individualism with Statism.

It is simply not true, however, that "the public" in general advocates a more powerful State. If several Columbine parents, who have suffered so much tragedy, can avoid the impulse to call on government to (attempt to) solve all our problems, surely the freedom advocates among us can draw inspiration from that to find greater courage for our convictions.

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