Carman: The legacy of Columbine and the father who won’t let it be forgotten

Gun Rights

As the body count keeps mounting from mass school shootings, grocery store shootings, theater shootings, concert shootings, bowling alley shootings, street shootings and suicides by firearm, it’s easy to think nothing has changed since the Columbine High School massacre 25 years ago.

That’s a big mistake.

And it’s a profound insult to Tom Mauser.

Tom Mauser at a town hall in Aurora in August 2019. Mauser was attending a town hall for then-U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Mauser, father of Daniel, has devoted his life to the memory of his 15-year-old son and a relentless quest for sanity in the face of America’s uniquely bizarre and irrational obsession with guns. 

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Last week he was in Washington, D.C., to support the Biden administration’s action to close the gun show loophole by expanding the definition of a “firearms dealer”  and requiring more gun buyers to undergo background checks. 

It was, after all, guns purchased without background checks at the Tanner Gun Show that were used to kill Daniel and 12 others at Columbine. The appalling fact that it took 25 years to take this obvious baby step in national gun policy was not lost on Mauser.

“We cannot wait another 25 years” to get significant gun safety legislation, Mauser said at a media event in D.C. 

Mauser wants more action, more limits on so-called assault weapons, more recognition of the egregious price we pay for legislators’ willingness to genuflect before the craven manipulators in the gun industry. 

Mostly, he wants people who share his views to be represented.

In a country with more guns than people, polls show addressing the impacts of gun violence is becoming a major policy issue for an overwhelming majority of Americans — particularly young people. The Pew Research Center found six in 10 Americans say the nation needs stricter gun laws, that guns are too easy to obtain and that gun violence is a major problem.

The polling also found broad bipartisan agreement on policies that would restrict access to firearms by increasing the age for purchase to 21 and preventing those who are mentally ill from buying guns. 

A majority support a ban on sales of semi-automatic assault-style weapons.

And majorities in both parties oppose policies that allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, passed by Congress in 2022, remains wildly popular with the support of some 76% of Americans. It was the most comprehensive gun safety legislation in 30 years.

Public support for such measures is growing, even if too many lawmakers still don’t have the guts to act.

But this has been the case for a long, long time.

When Colorado’s Republican-led legislature, cowed by gun industry lobbyists, failed to pass a measure to close the gun show loophole in 2000, Mauser and others overcame numerous legal challenges to place Amendment 22 on the ballot. 

It passed with 70% of voters supporting it.

“What it showed,” Mauser said, “was that it was easier for the gun lobby to buy, badger and bully 51 legislators than it is to buy, badger and bully millions of voters, and people will support a common sense gun violence prevention law when presented the evidence.”

But the ability of the National Rifle Association to “buy, badger and bully” lawmakers has been knocked back in recent months.

Wayne LaPierre, former CEO of the National Rifle Association, and two other executives of the organization were found liable in February in a civil jury trial for ripping off an estimated $64 million from the organization. 

Lawyers produced evidence, among other things, that LaPierre had used $500,000 in NRA funds for personal trips to the Bahamas and $11 million for flights on private jets. He also awarded millions in NRA contracts in exchange for lavish personal gifts.

Long the face of one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country — and the guy who provided talking points to then-President Donald Trump when he announced his opposition to universal background checks days after 17 students were slaughtered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School  — LaPierre resigned in ignominy in January.

His legacy now is marked by abject greed as well as facilitation of mass murder.

Young people continue to die by gunfire in growing numbers in the U.S. An analysis by Pew found the rate increased by 50% between 2019 and 2021. And while suicide rates are declining elsewhere around the globe, in the U.S., they are rising with gun suicides reaching an all-time high in 2021.

So, while the measures enacted so far represent progress, they don’t begin to address the problems caused by hundreds of millions of guns circulating in our communities.

But Mauser knows better than anyone that building momentum for real change takes time and he’s in it for the long haul. Walking in the shoes Daniel wore the day he died a quarter-century ago, he bears witness to the grief and horror wrought by gun violence in our ordinary, everyday lives.

“In Washington, it was very moving for me to have the new rule closing the gun show loophole come out just days before the anniversary” of Columbine, he told me as he rode the train home from the airport. “I’m thankful that they did this. Yes, it took 25 years to accomplish something so simple, but they did it. We shouldn’t have to wait another 25 years for more meaningful gun safety legislation.”

Mauser said he stopped in the offices of a couple of the Republican senators who voted for the Safer Communities Act while he was in D.C. 

“I thanked them for the bravery they showed in voting for this. Now they’re saying it’s going too far. They knew they were going to take heat for what they did, so it’s not surprising they’re saying that. We’ve come to expect that.”

For Mauser and so many others, the pain never goes away. And neither does the determination.

“Doing nothing won’t solve the problem,” he said. It’s taken a long time, but “we’re making meaningful change. It makes a difference.”

He’s getting older, he said. It’s a lot of work. But he won’t ever give up.

Daniel would be proud.


The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy. Learn how to submit a column. Reach the opinion editor at opinion@coloradosun.com.

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