I consider myself one of the lucky ones as I had walked by the propane tank bombs that never exploded at Columbine High School. My friends weren’t as lucky. As parents gathered at my old elementary school to pick up their children, I will never forget the look of worry and desperation as my friend’s dad asked me, “Pat, have you seen him?” This father coached my soccer team growing up. He was always calm, direct and confident. He wasn’t that day, and he would never see his son alive again.
This was more than 23 years ago. At Columbine, the perpetrators used pipe bombs and firearms, (some obtained illegally) and tried to kill many more with propane tanks. This happened in the middle of the assault weapons ban, mind you.
Fast forward to the recent events in Buffalo and Uvalde. Last week, I cried as I dropped my kids off at school. I cried more as I read news stories and reflected. Haven’t we learned anything since that tragic day at Columbine?
While some have learned lessons from the tragedy, many politicians have not. The assault weapons ban, and other “gun control” measures didn’t save my friends, nor did a flashy sign declaring my school a “gun free zone.” A brave and heroic teacher did save many lives at my school. Yet, after every tragedy like this, Democrats immediately start beating the gun control drum. Sadly, many Republicans start looking for gun control policies to say they “did something.” They need to start looking through a different lens. Instead of restrictions and control, they need to empower citizens, teachers and parents to solve this problem.
An overwhelming amount of mass shootings occur in places where citizens are banned from carrying firearms. As more and more people realize this is a problem, states have started to adopt policies to allow people to equip themselves to protect our children.
While this is a step in the right direction, many times the training requirements are steep, and the incentives are practically non-existent. Teachers often have salary incentives for obtaining advanced degrees and additional certificates. Why don’t we have similar incentives in place for those who want to protect our children?
I personally like the idea of School Resource Officers (SROs). One of the reasons I continue to drop my kids off at school is because of its outstanding SRO. However, this can be controversial for some parents. Locking doors, tempered glass, site assessments, communication systems and resiliency training are not controversial, but they aren’t always done. It’s because of a lack of incentives, since most schools don’t have to compete for enrolling students.
When I shop for a car, I look for lots of things, but one of the most important to me is making sure it has features that will protect my most precious cargo, my children. The car market has responded to parents like me by providing all sorts of safety features. If we had more school choice the education environment would be different. Schools could have SROs or not based on market signals. Each school could feature different safety measures, whether site security or trained staff, and they could incentivize staff to go through the training.
Instead of seeing parents with the look of worry and desperation, I want to see parents with the look of being empowered. Empowered about restoring our God-given, constitutional rights and duties to protect ourselves, our families and our communities. We all need to work together to reverse the alarming trend of mass shootings, and take meaningful measures that will secure our schools, places of worship, and other vulnerable spaces that are often exploited by the worst of humanity. I, for one, will never stop working on finding solutions to this problem.
Patrick Neville is a Columbine survivor, a gun rights activist, and a Colorado state lawmaker. He lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and three daughters. He is a spokesman for Young Americans for Liberty, the nation’s leading pro-liberty youth advocacy organization.