Monday, January 07, 2008

The Wasted Lesson of Columbine

[Originally posted at on October 5, 2006]

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been several school shootings in the United States, and even in Canada, whose schools had so far managed to escape the fate of many schools in this country. The last shooting occurred earlier this week in a place that no one could have imagined as the scene of this type of tragedy: a school in the heart of Amish country.

It is an endless source of fascination to see how certain people can morbidly exploit a tragedy to further their particular political viewpoint. The last person you would expect to do so is the father of a victim of a similar incident. But that is precisely what happened today, when the father of a victim of the Columbine shootings of 1999 took to the airwaves, courtesy of Katie Couric's right-wing leaning newscast.

Here is a transcript of Mr. Rohrbough's spine-chilling monologue:

I’m saddened and shaken by the shooting at an Amish school today, and last week’s school murders.

When my son Dan was murdered on the sidewalk at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, I hoped that would be the last school shooting. Since that day, I’ve tried to answer the question, “Why did this happen?”

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.

Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.

Sadly, our schools are not safe. In fact, we now witness that within our schools. Our children have become a target of terrorists from within the United States.

Let those words sink in for a moment...

I wish, in good conscience, that I could open my comments by saying something like "With all due respect for Mr. Rohrbough and his grief for the loss of his son in the Columbine shootings...," but I cannot do that, because respect for this kind of fundamentalist drivel is not warranted. In one fell swoop of his moralistic axe, Mr. Rohrbough blames school shootings on the moral vacuum in our school system, on the expulsion of God from the classroom and the government, on the rise of evolution (as if evolution was the flavor of the month, a novel and poisonous idea rather than an overwhelmingly accepted scientific fact), and even on abortion. The icing on the cake is the completely gratuitous use of the word terrorists in the context of school shootings.

Nice conservative hit-job, Mr. Rohrbough. It is hard to imagine what speechwriter in the Bush administration might have concocted such a grocery-list of right-wing, pseudo-moral talking points. In Mr. Rohrbough's make-believe world (as opposed to the reality-based one he must despise so much) it is the fact that God has been expelled from the classroom that is to blame for the shootings, in spite of the fact that the last incident targeted an Amish school, where the average man and woman are probably light-years ahead of Mr. Rohrbough in the seriousness of their interpretation and their application of scriptural texts in everyday life. In Mr. Rohrbough's world, it is abortion that diminishes the value of children, with no mention of Republican congressmen who take it upon themselves to send lurid instant messages to their teen pages as part of their mentoring responsibilities.

Mr. Rohrbough's "free-speech" delirium seems taken straight from Jerry Falwell's post-9/11 playbook, when the blame for the terrorist attacks was put squarely where it belongs: on the shoulders of working mothers who have chosen to defy God by leaving the kitchen and the fireplace, of gays, who throw away their lives (and, apparently, ours as well) with their deviant sexual preferences, and of those who have abandoned God to secularism.

It never ceases to amaze me that, when looking for the answer to "why did this happen?", we never look in the obvious place. It is certainly possible to beat someone to death. It is a little easier to stab them to death. But it is certainly much easier to shoot people from a safe distance. No longer, though, do people dare question the issue of the unbridled availability of guns in this country. You can hear people cry about the need to increase security in schools, you can hear some complain about the noxious effect of television programs on the youth of this country, you can hear many bemoan the state of disrepair of public education. Some people in the right wing loony park will scream for stricter decency standards and higher fines for TV stations that violate them. Others will reiterate their demand for public school vouchers. But no one will dare call for an examination of this country's gun policies, for fear of being seen as enemies of the second amendment. It is all so predictable. And so demoralizing.

I used to think that a civil society should have a moral duty to limit the availability of guns as much as possible. Then someone pointed out how a free people might need to arm itself in the event that a tyrannical government might usurp the people's power. I used to laugh at the thought. I don't anymore. When a public television network using public airwaves, openly favors one side over the other behind the pretense of free speech, and allows the diffusion of extreme and unfounded viewpoints without rebuttal, basically acting as the government's megaphone, it's enough to make one rethink the whole second amendment issue. So you may call me a convert on this point: reasonable people should be allowed to have guns. There should, however, be limits to who can own guns, how many, under what conditions, and what type of guns should be permissible. It is reprehensible to lament the fact that children do not know the difference between right and wrong when we, the adults in charge, are unwilling to lead responsibly on a fairly simple, clear-cut subject like gun education and gun control.

In Mr. Rohrbough's world, it is much easier to blame school shootings on the secularization of society and on the estrangement of religion from public life, instead of placing it squarely where it belongs: on our shoulders, and on the shoulders of people like Mr. Rohrbough in particular.

For more information on gun violence issues, I recommend that you view the following two studies: one by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research; the other, slightly older but very informative, by the International Epidemiological Association (in pdf format, requires Adobe Acrobat.)

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