13 years ago I arrived to my jazz band class. I was a freshman in high school and opened the doors to the music room, prepared for a normal 45 minutes of jazz practice. Instead of seeing my fellow band members preparing to start class, they were watching the TV situated on the classroom's wall. I put down my instrument, turned to the TV, and we all spent the next 45 minutes watching the below images.
All we knew was there were gunmen in Columbine High School but the news broadcasters couldn't tell us how many gunmen there were nor how many people had been shot. We all sat in shock as a similar high school to ours only a twenty-minute car drive away was under some sort of attack. It wouldn't be until later that night when we finally had a clearer image of just what had happened. We learned about the events that had occurred inside the school and the identity of the shooters, we remembered the lives of the dead students, and we discovered the heroics of the murdered teacher. Our high school was on high-security alert for the next month, inundated with security guards in case of a copy-cat attack.
Everyone had some connection to the shooting. A man whom had installed some electronics in our home lost his son in the shooting, one of 12 students murdered. The brother of my classmate in history class was shot in the back and ended up in a wheelchair.
Two years after the massacre I traveled to Columbine High School for the first time to take part in a debate competition. I remember on that Saturday having to pass the cafeteria, scene of so much of the violence. The cafeteria appeared fairly normal; it was completely empty of people but it was very clean and all the chairs had been perfectly placed around each table. And yet it wasn't normal. I got the chills and felt a deep sense of sadness. All alone, I stood in silence at the corner of the cafeteria for more than two minutes. I then took a deep breath, turned to the right, and continued to the classroom holding the debate competition. A year later the movie Bowling For Columbine was released and till this day I still get chocked up when the surveillance footage scene starts playing (FYI I just watched it again below and started tearing up).
As I stand here writing this, the local newsman on the TV in my parent's kitchen has just revealed the name of another victim: Matt Mcquinn, age 27. Terrible.
There are moments in your life that you will recall very vividly even while laying on your death bed. For many, it's watching the Apollo 11 moon landing. For others it's where they were when they learned of Kennedy's assassination. I remember exactly where I was when I learned of the Columbine shooting. I also remember what happened the morning of September 11, 2011 - That morning I arrived to my high school and went to my fantasy literature class. I was only the 3rd student to arrive and the TV was turned on showing the twin towers billowing smoke. My teacher turned off the TV just as class started, saying, "it's not like there's going to be a war over this." Once class ended, I ran as fast as I could all the way across campus to my physics class. As I arrived, I saw the entire class gathered around the TV. I looked up and within seconds was immediately confused as it seemed there was only one tower. "How could that be?" I thought. Five minutes later, there were screams of "No!" from the classroom as the second tower fell.
I will now always remember being woken up by my father and him telling me there was a shooting at a theater in Aurora during the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises and 12 people were dead.
Over the past 6 years I have come to appreciate the lack of public gun violence in China. Government authorities are allowed to carry guns but private citizens (with some exemptions) are not. American gun ownership is about 88.8 guns per 100 people while in China it's 4.9 guns per 100 people (270 million vs 40 million guns). Gun violence still exists in China but the rate of homicides as a percentage of the population is far fewer.
It's been great being able to walk about at any time of day or night, in both rich and poor areas, and not having to be concerned that the person who has been walking behind me for the last 30 seconds might have a gun. Yes, that person might have a knife or metal bat, but probably not a gun. Even first-time clients to China have told me they immediately feel a difference in the level of perceived safety and security when in public compared to the US. It has always been strange having to again worry about possible gun violence every time I come back to the US; it's just not something we even imagine being a possibility during daily life in China.
So of course I return to the US for a month long stay and only five days into the trip 12 people are murdered and 70+ shot at a midnight movie showing only 20 minutes away. Is the right to gun ownership really worth the immense tradeoff in perceived public safety that comes with it? After six years in China, I can't see how it is.
The only positive that has come from today's terrible shooting? Not one political ad has played on Colorado TV in the last 36 hours.