20 years after the Columbine tragedy: what’s changed?

Increase in security, discipline, mental wellness, crisis plans in schools show promise; but heightened media coverage, inconsistent state firearm laws, copycat effect show there is no single solution to mass violence

Abigail Kawalec, Staff Reporter

    This April marks the 20th anniversary of the Columbine mass shooting which left 30 dead and was one of the first mass shootings covered by the media. Since the two decades following one of the most well known school shootings, here’s how life has changed for students.

    On April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris,18, opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Victims included 12 students, 1 teacher, as well as both of the shooters who committed suicide.

    Katie Fredericksen, Freshman theology teacher, who was a freshman at T.F. North at the time of the shooting said she remembered feeling shocked, confused and sickened in addition to wondering why this would happen. Fredericksen recalled the event saying, “I remember watching the news for hours at my friends house just trying to figure out why it happened and watching it all unfold… it was confusing and sickening.”

    The media covered Columbine in a way that was never seen before. The sheer number of articles propelled mass shootings into the media spotlight in an unprecedented way. The way Columbine was covered was a defining moment in news coverage of gun violence, unleashing perhaps the first most documented evidence of media contagion in American news Some argue that over-coverage of mass shootings is hurting not only America’s youth, but also the whole of America’s population by showing them that violence is a way to cope with their feelings. Certain people believe that over-coverage destigmatizes gun violence and can almost be portrayed as entertainment. The media often glorifies the shooters while paying less attention to the victims. Just like “suicide contagion”, people may start to identify with the shooter the more they are talked about in the media.

    Samantha Chapleau, junior and senior English teacher, is nervous for the exposure of gun violence by the media,

  “I am so scared that increased media coverage of school shootings is teaching young people that this is a viable option for coping with stress, bullying, etc. rather than addressing underlying causes like mental health and gun laws,” she said.

As a young adult who sees her peers exposed to the over-coverage of gun violence, Olivia Baczkowski, sophomore, agrees.

   “I fear that people feel that if they can control a gun in a game, that it could be similar in real life since they are acquainted with the idea of using guns on a regular basis for entertainment purposes,” she said.

    Following the shooting, there were some drastic changes that took place in schools as well as subtle ones. One change came from the anxiety spurred by profiling specific students.  In the state of disbelief after Columbine, suspicion fell upon cliques, such as “goths”, as the shooters were believed to be members of such cliques. School security was also increased in schools. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in the 1999 – 2000 school year, only 19% of public schools were equipped with security cameras. By 2015, he number of security cameras in public schools had increased to 81%.

    Fredericksen recalled the judgement that was cast upon “goths” and those who wore trench coats, combat boots, etc. Fredericksen said, “I think we as students were more judgemental on the kids who were more “goth” who wore trench coats and combat boots as a fashion choice.” Chapleau said, “Our day to day didn’t change much, but over the years as I transitioned into teaching at that same school, I did notice an increasing focus on security, keeping doors locked, and making sure only one main entrance was used for visitors.”

    Immediately after Columbine, many schools implemented protocols such as Code Red and requiring students to wear ID cards in hopes to prevent and prepare in the event of a mass shooting. These protocols still stand in nearly all public and private schools today. Some believe that these measures help prevent and keep schools safe, while others view them as “security theater”, or measures that just provide the feeling of safety instead of actually improving it.

    Fredericksen says that she believes these protocols are just a start, but are useful in the way they provide direction for what to do in certain situations.

   Mary Buksa, sophomore, said, “I do think protocols do help. However, there are people that don’t take it seriously, so it defeats the entire purpose.”

  While there is no federal law that completely restricts guns on school properties, there have been two federal laws that aim at regulating guns at K-12 schools. The Gun-Free Schools Act, which was enacted in 1994 but revised in 2002, states that schools receiving a minimum of federal funding must expel a student found in possession of a firearm for at least one year. The Gun-Free School Zones Act prohibits a person from knowingly possessing a firearm in a school zone.

  However, there is a dangerous loophole that allows those who are licensed by the state to conceal carry based on their state. While 40 states and Washington D.C. extend the prohibition to those with concealed weapon permits, 8 states, Indiana not being one of the aforementioned 8 states, either allow concealed carry of firearms or have no applicable law on prohibiting conceal carry. In those 8 states with no applicable law, the schools have to institute their own rules regarding the prohibition of firearms on school property. There is no concrete evidence that these bans will deter gun violence on school property. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, prohibited guns on school property but it still fell victim to gun violence resulting in the death of 17 students, teachers, and coaches.

    Chapleau said, “I think we really need to take a serious look at gun laws in this country as well as instruct young people and society at large as to what the Second Amendment really means.

    Columbine most definitely was not the end of mass shootings in the United States. The United States is one of the only wealthy countries with this unprecedented level of gun violence. When people think of America they think of freedom, food, and gun violence.  Some believe that gun violence has become a staple in our country due to the accessibility of guns and the inability to cope with life’s hardships.

    Chapleau said, “Contrary to what people often say, I don’t think young people have more stress these days. I think they no longer are being taught how to cope with stress in safe, healthy ways.”

  Fredericksen, in agreement with Chapleau said, “… I do see that recently kids in general are having issues with coping with every-day life.  If we can find a way to help students cope with the serious issues of life…that may be a start in the right direction.”

  The solution to America’s youth-oriented, mass gun violence problem in the aftermath of Columbine is one that is often debated, but it is also one that is nearly impossible to construct. A single approach to this issue seems like it may not warrant a long-term solution, leaving many in this country to wonder if the violence will ever abate.Mass shootings are a multifaceted problem that can not be fixed overnight. In order to resolve mass shootings, the issues of gun control, bullying, and mental health would need to be fixed. Whether or not we will see end end to mass shootings in our lifetime, let alone have one of the aforementioned problems solved can be summed up in Fredericksen’s words: “Sadly, I don’t know.”