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No easy answers

By Lora J. Mackel
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 21, 2000
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It has been a whole year since two kids named Eric Harris and Dylan Kleibold stormed into their high school in Littleton, Colorado, and killed more than fifteen people. It has been a whole year since nearly every person in the nation was glued to their television in a state of national grieving and terror. But after a year of contemplation, no one has any answers. Perhaps the victims' memories would be best served if we acted on the debates this tragedy started almost a year ago.

Last April, network anchors and cable reporters camped outside Columbine High School, hoping to aim their cameras at anything that would capture their viewers' attention. They showed grieving children, bloody library windows, and parents terrified by the thought that their child could have died at the hands of the two gunmen. Next, there was a parade of expert analysts, offering their opinions on the feelings of the students and the motivation of the boys. Nearly everyone in the country registered in their opinion, their reaction, and theory. There was a whole lot of exposure and talk, but what really happened?

After Columbine, schools everywhere reacted. Some changed their dress codes, some brought metal detectors, and still others created tolerance campaigns. Yet, despite these changes the tensions in school is almost tangible. People are no longer surprised that school violence happens, they expect it.

Maybe it was a myth that our schools were ever safe. Maybe our schools were never really the sacred and safe places that we were content to think they were. If statistics about school violence are to be believed, kids are frequently caught with weapons on campuses, suspended for fighting, and involved in other activities less wholesome than learning. Even in our own city, the police have been called in to high schools with riot gear on occasion to put down high school melees. School violence was not a new thing last April. It is just that Kleibold and Harris were the first people to effectively plan such a massive attack. But will they be the last?

All the experts we called in to weigh in on the actions of the two Littleton gunmen pointed to different causes. Some said the boys were mentally ill. Others said that our violent culture helped to foster these children's isolation and change it into hate. Others blamed the boys' parents.

However, what we learnt from these experts in the end is that they had no clear answers. No one factor could fully explain such a brutal and horrifying crime. And maybe the lack of an answer is the only answer in the end.

Often, when something disturbs us, we seek answers not to solve the problems, but to provide comfort for ourselves. If only we could figure out what made them do it, perhaps we feel we could prevent it from ever happening again. But we cannot. We cannot dismiss what happened at Columbine High School by attributing it to one or two facts. And that is why school yards still feel tense, and why parents and children still do not feel safe. Sometimes there just is no answer.

So what do we do? The lesson in this tragedy is not a lesson at all, just a reminder that every action counts. During the Columbine coverage, the media did an excellent job of highlighting and discussing the problems our society has. It seemed like for those few weeks, our country was actually scared enough to enter into a serious debate about the issues of violence in our culture, the availability of guns, and the responsibilities of parents in their children's lives.

Now, nine or so months later, little has been done about those issues that had elicited such passions only a year before.

In the year's time that has elapsed since the school shooting, no real gun legislation has been passed. Violent movies and images still pervade our cultural lives, and parents are still not becoming involved with their children's lives. If actions are suppose to speak louder than our words, then we have hardly whispered about this tragedy.

Harris and Kleibold not only shoot up an entire school, but highlighted the real problems our society has. Their actions forced the nation to take a hard look at the scary things too hard to talk about before. And although there is no real "reason" that we can point to for the boys' actions, we do not serve the memory of those who died by avoiding problem issues of our nation.

Lora J. Mackel is a history junior. She can be reached at Lora.J.Mackel@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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