January 26, 2023


 It happened again. And again.


And I'm writing this column again.  


The California shootings over a three-day period killed 11 at a dance studio in Monterey Park and seven more at two Half Moon Bay farms.

As I type, the Gun Violence Archive lists 39 mass shootings in 2023. Yes, in less than a month.  


This is all distressingly familar, although mass shootings of recent times don't conform to a singular copycat pattern. It doesn't help the cause of reasonable gun control laws when proponents over-reach in attempting to apply labels and also similar motives and storylines.        


In Colorado, the Columbine shootings -- the list of the 13 murdered is shown above, mournfully displayed outside the library at the reconfigured school -- took place 24 years ago. Yes, 24 years ago. The school's name remains the catchword for school shootings or even other mass killings.


Since, in Colorado alone, school shootings and killings have included those at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Club Q in Colorado Springs, King Soopers in Boulder, a Walmart in Thornton, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, a theater complex in Aurora, and at Arapahoe and Platte Canyon high schools. And we can be so proud that two members of the Colorado Congressional delegation -- Ken Buck and Lauren Boebert -- have proudly brandished their AR-15s as badges of honor and defiance. 


Nationally, the toll at schools includes 26 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, 17 at Stoneman Douglas High in Florida and 19 at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas; 59 at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas; 49 at a nightclub in Orlando; 9 at a church in Charleston and ... and more.  


I considered scratching the preceding two paragraphs. Why? They're reminders, not revelation. Unfortunately, all of that should be assumed knowledge by now. Putting together a list can involve nitpicking about the definitions of "school shootings" or "mass shootings." (One dead is tragic, but most chroniclers don't consider that a "mass shooting.") It can't sufficiently acknowledge the post-Columbine victims by name, regardless of the "type" of shootings. And it can't be all-inclusive. 


Each time, we shake our heads and lament that, yes, it happened again. Again. And then this week at a Des Moines school, two more were killed.  


In the past 24 years, reaction has evolved into a "thoughts and prayers" template, especially sickening when it's coming from those who otherwise -- through actions, not words -- don't really seem to give a damn. What have we learned? What have we done? Lip service. Minor tweeks, including some I'll get into in a bit. But in terms of major significance, not a damn thing. 


I don't have the answers. I can't break down the type of weapons used in each killing. I won't get caught up in tortuous definitions of what is or what isn't a multiple-shot, repeat-fire weapon. I also don't pretend that banning assault weapons would be waving the magic wand. "Red flag" laws aren't the panacea, either where already enacted or proposed, in part because they require a willingness to enforce them. Weld County Sheriff Steven Reams has been just one of many authority figures, in Colorado or otherwise, who have said they wouldn't. There is no disputing that chasing down every "tip" is impossible, and frivolous complaints would be -- or are -- numerous. Acknowledging that mental health issues are the major component in all of this and also advocating the tightening of gun laws doesn't have to be a choice among the two.              


We have to do something. We have to try


"Something" would include Congressional passage of pending bills that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and raise the minimum purchasing age to 21. I'd do more -- a lot more -- if I could ordain it, but that's a start.


Of course, though, those measures won't pass.  

Reasonable gun control is a politicized issue. It's exasperating that red and blue even comes into play. I don't understand why it does, but I'll at least admit that liberals are just as adept at refusing to evaluate issues of import on a case-by-case basis, but instead seek out and listen only to our own choirs, too. In this instance, it really is so much more than assault weapons. Yet banning them would be, well, a start. A small step. A significant, perhaps even symbolic to an extent, move. They are combat weapons. There is no justification -- none -- for owning them in citizen life. That is not calling for a repeal of the right to bear arms. The vast majority of gun owners are responsible. But count me among those who find it offensive that many consider the reflexive citing of the Second Amendment as all the answer needed. 


I helped two Columbine figures -- principal Frank DeAngelis and Patrick Ireland, the "Boy in the Window" -- with their book projects, and that influenced me. One of the many disgraces tied to the Columbine murders was the ease with which the two killers obtained the weapons they brought into the school -- a TEC DC 9 semi-automatic handgun, a 9mm carbine, a sawed-off 12-gauge pump shotgun, and a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun. They did the sawing-off of the "long guns" themselves. They had purchased the TEC DC 9 from an acquaintance of a friend (who ended up serving a jail sentence because of the sale), and the other three weapons at a gun show. Neither killer was 18, so the official purchaser was the 18-year-old woman who had been one killer's prom date. She paid cash to an unlicensed dealer in a quick, simple exchange and it seemed obvious that she, while not knowing what the killers had planned, was acting on their behalf. She would have passed a background check, but she also later said she likely wouldn't have gone through with the purchase had the sale gotten more complicated than showing ID.     


Thomas Mauser, the father of one of the murder victims, Daniel Mauser -- became a lobbyist and led the drive for gun-control measures in Colorado. That drive led to only cosmetic changes on the state level, before a 2000 initiative designed to close the so-called "gun show loophole" made the ballot and passed decisively. It required background checks for gun-show purchases. Colorado also required licenses for gun-show dealers. And eventually, in 2013, Colorado started requiring background checks for all purchases, even from unlicensed dealers outside of gun shows. 


Even if those laws had been in force as the Columbine killers were assembling their arsenals, they likely would have found a way to line up the guns. But there's also a chance they could have drawn additional attention to themselves and been thwarted.


In 2019, a young Florida woman "obsessed" with Columbine left a trail of red flags, traveled to Colorado and purchased a pump-action shotgun at a gun shop near the school. But she passed a background check as a condition of the sale. That alone isn't enough. With authorities aware of her presence and obsession, she killed herself at a remote area of Clear Creek County. 


We have to do something. We have to try.


This week, I received a last email from another murder victim's father. Mark Barden, the father of Sandy Hook victim Daniel Barden, wrote on behalf of the Sandy Hook Promise organization. An excerpt:


"Our hearts are heavy today, Terry.

"Assault weapons are military-style firearms designed to fire multiple rounds in quick succession – killing people quickly with little effort. That’s why they’ve been used in our country’s deadliest mass shootings, from Sandy Hook and Uvalde to tragic shootings in recent days.

"We cannot accept another moment of inaction. In the first three weeks of 2023 alone, there have already been 39 mass shootings – including a wave of shootings across California and in Louisiana just this week. Sadly, another school shooting also happened in Des Moines, Iowa on the heels of a deadly weekend of mass shootings. Every minute lawmakers fail to stop the sale of these weapons of war, children’s lives are at risk."


A click took me to the petition itself:


"Our loved ones were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary by a shooter who used an AR-15 assault-type weapon, allowing him to fire 154 bullets in less than five minutes.

"That's why these military-style assault rifles are the weapon of choice for mass shooters – and why we must demand the Senate move quickly to pass the Assault Weapons Ban Act of 2023 to restrict access to these weapons of war.

Please sign our petition right now to tell Congress:

Weapons of war don't belong in civilian hands. We need federal action to restrict the sale of these kinds of firearms to keep our communities safe. I urge Congress to act quickly to pass the Assault Weapons Ban Act of 2023." 


I signed it.    


(I'm fully aware I wandered all over the map here. Freed from journalistic constraints, I can be naive, emotional and impractical. I make no apology for it. The views above are mine ... and mine alone.)                     


Terry Frei's web site