Last week was the 19th anniversary of my son Daniel’s murder. He and 12 others were killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. My family and I marked the occasion quietly, visiting Daniel’s grave and simply waiting for the day to pass.
We were not quiet the day before, however, when we attended a “Vote for Our Lives” event in Littleton. We gathered with current Columbine students; students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland; survivors of the Columbine shooting; and other supporters.
The enthusiasm of the young organizers of this event and their supporters throughout the nation gives me great hope. For 19 years, I and many others have sought to reduce gun violence, and we’ve seen too many other families go through the excruciating pain of losing loved ones, as Congress sat by and did nothing. We have battled both the gun lobby and the apathy of a weary public unsure of what to do about gun violence, or assuming either nothing could be done or that someone else would do something, not realizing they were the “someone else” they sought.
Young people have learned they can and must take action, to succeed where their elders failed.
Solutions to the problem of gun violence exist. I support three particular proposals advocated by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence that can help keep guns out of the wrong hands and prevent civilian access to weapons of war.
They include expanding background checks nationwide to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people; supporting “red flag” laws that enable courts to temporarily prohibit a person from having guns if that person poses a significant danger to themselves or others; and banning assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines.
All of these proposals are supported by large majorities of Americans. According to a 2018 Quinnipiac University poll, support for universal background checks is now up to 97 percent. A nationwide ban on assault weapons is supported by 67 percent, and 66 percent of voters support stricter gun laws. I’m irate that Congress will not even allow a vote, let alone hold a hearing on these measures.
There is something seriously wrong with our democracy when Congress will not act on something favored by 97 percent of the voters.
My son was murdered by killers who purposely purchased three of their guns from a private seller at a gun show in order to avoid paperwork or questions. As a private seller, the vendor was not required to obtain a federal firearms license (FFL).
Sellers with FFLs must conduct background checks to determine whether buyers are prohibited from purchasing firearms. Private sellers are not required to do so in most states.
In 2000, we tried to get the Colorado Legislature to close this loophole and require private sellers to conduct background checks at gun shows. The gun lobby opposed the bill and it died in committee. So instead, we launched a petition drive and placed a citizens initiative on the statewide ballot. We won that election with 70 percent of the vote.
We learned two important lessons through that experience. First, if you put something reasonable in front of the public, Americans will support it. Second, it’s a lot easier for the gun lobby to buy, bully, and badger elected officials than it is to do so to the public.
Schools and local law enforcement officials have done much since Columbine to prevent school shootings. But state policymakers have not done enough and Congress has done virtually nothing. They have failed us. Young people mobilizing to vote, speak out, and take action can help immensely to reverse that inaction.
At our dinner table two weeks before he died, Daniel brought up a subject he had discussed with his debate classmates. “Dad,” he asked, “did you know there were loopholes in the Brady Bill?” I did not, then — but when he was shot with a gun purchased through one of those loopholes, I took it as a life-changing sign.
Many of the young people in the “Never Again” movement have had their own life-changing experiences and refuse to accept America’s shameful gun violence. I am proud to pass on my knowledge to them; to help maintain their determination; and to work with them to end gun violence — if not in my lifetime, then surely in theirs.
Tom Mauser is the father of the late Daniel Mauser, who was shot and killed during the Columbine High School shooting, and a longtime advocate in the gun violence prevention movement.