The world was by no means perfect in the 90s, but the concerns were qualitatively different from the way they are now. For those of us who grew up in the years of Bush 41 and Bill Clinton, it was a different world. If we were lucky enough to live in safe neighborhoods and attend good schools, the practical risk of gun violence was not even on our radar screens. Not as a general phenomenon, let alone as a serious threat.
Then Columbine happened in the late 90s, and forever changed the perception of what was possible. Even then, it’s interesting that after Columbine took place, we still did not seem to have many similar incidents, with any kind of regularity.
I remember the marathon assembly of students and faculty, following the shooting at Columbine, at the private school I was attending at the time. It was quite an event that spontaneously transformed from one person saying a few words about Columbine, to an outpouring of thoughts and concerns from all kinds of people, on a whole spectrum of topics. Some of us shared our thoughts on the tragedy in Colorado, and spoke our minds accordingly. I remember getting up from my seat in the sophomore section of the auditorium, and climbing on stage in front of the rest of the students and faculty. I hadn’t prepared anything, or even thought about what I was going to say before I got on stage. The pulse of the room was palpable to me, and I felt that there was a bit of a doom spiral brewing. So, I spoke about how we should recognize the tragedy at Columbine, while also understanding that it was essentially a freak event. I remarked that just because it happened there, nothing had happened to us thankfully, and that nothing of the sort needed to happen to us, going forward. I remember people telling me that they appreciated my words, and how I brought the focus back to some of the positive things that we could focus on.
Looking back now, after more than 20 years, I am struck by just how obvious it seemed, that Columbine was an isolated incident. I am also struck by just how utterly wrong that appraisal was. Few people have ever accused me of being naive, or even optimistic, so I did not have my head in the sand when it came to the horrors that humans can visit upon each other. I just never thought that this particular kind of scenario, that we saw at Columbine, would eventually become its own genre of repeated horror, in American life. If you had forced me to predict back then, I would have bet the house that something like 9/11 would happen, long before I ever thought that mass shootings would become a common aspect of American life. This is how absolutely rare and unexpected, the concept of a mass shooting was, in the 90s.
As is so often the case, we unfortunately did not read the warning signs properly. There were of course some solemn lessons and some well-meaning efforts made. For a little while at least, there were some positive signs. We may have tried to treat people better, so as not to fuel the same kind of resentment and hatred, that could never excuse the violence, but may help sow the seeds for events such as Columbine. Most of this awareness and change came and went, with the winds of the seasons. Columbine did not alter how we lived our lives, in any meaningful way, or our expectations about the world in general. At least not in real time.
Fast-forward from the mid-90s to 2022, and the situation could not be more different.
We now live in a world where we see Columbine style mass shootings, all too regularly. There have been so many, and with such frequency, that when someone mentions the latest mass shooting, you literally have to start counting them in your head to remember which came before the other.
Just think about that for a moment. We have so many mass shootings in this country, that we cannot even keep track of them with the fingers on both our hands, anymore.
There was a time when if you said the phrase “mass shooting” folks of a certain age might have imminently thought of the “Bell Tower Shooting” at the University of Texas in 1966, or the Kent State shooting of 1970. Millennials, like myself, naturally would think of Columbine, as that was the only one in the collective awareness of my generation.
We now have more mass shootings than we have hurricanes and blizzards, worthy of being named. Just think about that for a moment.
Remember that at one point in the early 2000s, it seemed as if terrorism from abroad was the big threat. Now we barely even mention it.
We see very little foreign terrorism these days.
So, now we create and arm our own terrorists, right here at home.