Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not represent the views of Babble.
Eighteen years ago, I traveled from Los Angeles to Littleton, Colorado to report on the what would become one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. I was not alone in thinking that this could and would never happen again. I was wrong.
Fast forward nearly two decades, and I’ve now reported on multiple school shootings; all tragic and heartbreaking in their own way. I am also now a parent myself, who never thought I’d see the day when bullet proof backpacks would be in demand. But this is the world we’re living in — especially now, in the wake of yet another senseless massacre at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14.
The tragedy that took 17 lives in a city recently touted as one of the safest in the country is another wakeup call that something is drastically wrong with the system. What about all those parents who have already lost their children to gun violence? Weren’t they promised that something would change — for the better?
For Tom Mauser, who lost his 15-year-old son Daniel at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, the most recent school shooting is all too familiar. When I reached out to Mauser just hours after the death toll was revealed, the dedicated gun control advocate had just left the state capitol of Colorado where he was protesting a new law that would allow gun owners to carry their concealed weapons without enduring a background check. (Yes, you read right.)
“We have created this with our gun culture. None of us should be surprised,” Mauser tells Babble. “We see gun violence of all types, in churches, stadiums, hospitals. Of course it’s going to spill over into our schools. When something like this happens, people ask me, ‘What can I do?’ I’ll tell you what you can do, you can vote. It’s time for us to get involved and raise hell.”
“Have there been any changes at all since Columbine?” I ask Mauser.
“No, not really,” he says. “In fact, at the federal level, there has been a weakening in the gun laws. The gun lobby will tell you the solution is putting more guns in schools, well I can tell you this simply won’t work. There will be cross-fire. How will police know how to identify the killer? It’s preposterous to think that more guns will make our schools safer.”
One way we can help minimize school shootings is by adopting safer gun laws, such as ERPO, Emergency Risk Protection Order. California adopted this law in 2014, after a mother felt helpless knowing her mentally unstable son had a gun. At the time, there was nothing she or law enforcement could legally do. That same person, Elliot Rodger, 22, went on to kill six people before turning the gun on himself in what is now known as the Isla Vista massacre. ERPO gives family members or law enforcement officials the right petition a court to remove a gun from somebody who is a danger to themselves or others, and prohibit them from purchasing a gun until the protective order is lifted.
Will this completely solve all gun violence in America? “No, no one is saying that,” Mauser tells Babble, “but damn you have to do something. The reason this law, which seems like a no-brainer, has not already been passed in more states is because the gun lobby believes it’s always not the gun, it’s the person.”
Mauser also emphasizes our need as a community to get involved. This is not a blame game, it’s about being aware for the sake of our children’s safety.
“We in America are really terrible when it comes to intervention,” he says. “We give so much weight to individualism and not intervening in lives. Too often, people are afraid of retribution. They are afraid of wrongly accusing someone. Well, I say deal with it! It’s far easier to deal with that, than having to live knowing that you could have done something to stop this crazed gunman.”
Till this day, Mauser still wears his son’s shoes while advocating for safer gun laws, which included a visit with President Obama in 2013. That same year, the father, who also has two daughters, wrote Walking in Daniel’s Shoes. He also created a website in honor of his son, DanielMauser.com, as a way to keep him alive in memories.
Mauser encourages us all to focus on the victims, not the killers. It is, after all, in their memory that we fight for change.