On April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire at Columbine High School—their high school— in Littleton, Colorado. The seniors shot and killed 12 classmates, one teacher and themselves. 21 people were injured. The crime was senseless.
4,836 days later, just 35 minutes from the site of the massacre, Colorado experienced a second blow. On July 20, 2012, James Eagan Holmes opened fire at a Century Movie Theater in the city of Aurora. The man killed 12 people. 58 others were injured. The crime was just as senseless as the first.
October 11 marked the 10th anniversary of Bowling for Columbine, a documentary by Michael Moore that considered the possible theories behind our nation’s ongoing battle with gun violence.
The controversial film was awarded Cannes 55th Anniversary Prize and the attention of a nation. Bowling For Columbine used a Center for Disease Control’s statistic that more than 11,000 people die in America each year at the hands of gun violence. Canada? 165. United Kingdom? 68. Japan? 39. Ten years ago, that reality was disheartening. We had a problem.
Today, we’ve surely made overwhelming progress in both practice and theory because Moore was correct we had a problem, right? Unfortunately for Americans, that problem would pale in comparison to the state we’re in today. If we had a problem then, we have an epidemic now. One of the biggest factors? Assault weapons.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2000 through 2009, more than 298,000 people died from gunshots in the United States. That’s roughly 30,000 per year, more than 85 per day and three per hour. It is a leading cause of death (excluding natural causes), second only to car accidents. America loses more kids, ages 15 and under, to gun related deaths than 25 other high-income nations combined.
The statistics are screaming, so why isn’t anyone listening?
Maybe it’s because this phrase is ringing in the ears of The National Rifle Association and its supporters: Guns don’t kill people, people kill people; the age-old argument insisting that the problem lies in our people. To a certain extent, I agree. We cannot blame an inanimate object for violence. We cannot put a weapon on trial. At the end of the day, gun related violence is at the hands of the criminal. So, then, should we ignore the gun in their hands?
According to CNN James Eagan Holmes used an AR-15 semi-automatic assault weapon at the Aurora movie theater massacre. This is a weapon capable of firing 50 to 60 rounds per minute, so it only took a few to shoot 60 people. Similarly in 2011, a man opened fire outside of a grocery store in Tuscon, Ariz., where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents. Except this time, the gunman used a 9 mm handgun. How many people did he shoot? 20.
This leads me to assault weapons and a whole lot of questions. Most importantly, why on earth do they exist?
We’ve all heard the argument: “I have to protect my family.” My own stepfather said that if a loved one’s life was at stake, he’d protect them at all costs. If that meant shooting an intruder, he’d do it without so much as a blink of the eyes, and I commend that loyalty. But if you expect me to believe that the average person needs a AR-15 semi automatic assault weapon that shoots 50 to 60 rounds per minute to do the job? You’ve missed the point of the Second Amendment. Quite frankly, you’d end up shooting one of your kids through the wall while trying to defend another. If police cannot legally carry that weapon, than the average American dad certainly doesn’t need to.
Speaking of that Second Amendment, what exactly does it entail?
It is our Constitutional Right to bear arms. Just like our right to free speech and our right to vote. You know what it doesn’t entail? A footnote that prohibits dressing up like The Joker, entering a movie theater, throwing tear gas at a crowd full of people and opening fire. Do you know why it doesn’t say that? Because on Dec. 15, 1791, when this right was established, there were no movie theaters and no tear gas and no AR-15 semi automatic assault weapons. Such a concept would have been inconceivable and entirely unforeseeable. But I believe wholeheartedly that if James Madison could have watched these massacres unfold, he would be utterly horrified. Just as I am.
We had a problem. We have a problem. We are going to have a problem if gun violence continues to be swept under the rug. Every shooting, just as senseless as the one before.
Carly Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.