For much of last week, residents of Littleton, Colorado, paused to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.
Two student gunmen murdered a dozen students and a teacher that spring day, then committed suicide, the culmination of a plot designed to kill 500 people using guns and homemade bombs. The shock of such violence on a pacific, affluent suburban school campus shook much of America, and causes Columbine to live on in our consciousness, even as its death toll has been superseded by massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
During last week’s tearful recollections, candlelight vigils, survivors’ updates, and the weird and sad tale of a reportedly Columbine-obsessed young woman from Florida whose trek to Colorado led many to fear violence during the activities but ended with her taking her own life, many may have missed the story of Evan Todd.
Twenty years ago Todd was a 15-year-old sophomore in the school library working on an English paper when the shooters entered the room. They immediately shot in his direction, wounding him, and then made their way around the room, shooting 22 fellow students, killing 10. At one point one of the shooters approached Todd, pressed a gun against his head and asked why he shouldn’t be killed. Todd recalled stammering an answer about never having done anything to either of them, and after a pause, the shooters left the library, and let Todd live. He was the last student to speak to them.
Todd has said he believes prayer saved his life that day. But since then, he has pushed for a different kind of intervention in instances such as Columbine.
Todd has become a gun-rights activist, including carrying a concealed weapon of his own, and his pet cause is allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.
This month, as the Columbine anniversary neared, he told a Colorado radio reporter, “What actually stops these from happening? And in the world we live in, a firearm is one of those ways. And a firearm would have saved lives at Columbine.”
“Had I not gone through it, I don’t know if I would have the same perspective,” Todd added. “But I’ve seen evil in this world. And ignoring it never does anything.”
That reiterated a message he shared last year, both with the media around the 19th anniversary of the massacre and to community groups and state lawmakers in campaigning for a bill permitting teachers to carry guns, which was proposed by one of Todd’s former schoolmates and a survivor of the massacre.
Gun opponents repeatedly maintain this is a bad idea that does nothing to enhance school safety. In fact, as the gun-control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America argues, panicky, ill-trained teachers will make things more dangerous. That’s quite a commentary about the judgment of people we entrust with our children for six to eight hours each day.
Additionally, we know it’s a fallacy to argue that more guns means more murder. The gun-related homicide rate in America today is half what it was a quarter-century ago, even as millions more guns have been sold in that time. And we know from reviews of both Columbine and Douglas high schools that law enforcement did not respond adequately to save lives, thus leaving victims, like Evan Todd, to the mercy of the killers.
The urge to deny people the right to defend themselves — and in the case of Florida schools, to defend children — from homicidal maniacs is a strange one. Lawmakers cannot make teachers or anyone else carry guns, but if we learn anything from the recent Columbine retrospective, it should be that prohibiting self-defense via gun can be a matter of life and death.