The Purple Box

This week marks the 22nd anniversary of Columbine, America’s first mass school shooting.

Two senior boys shot twelve students and one teacher to death, injuring 21 more by gunfire before turning their guns on themselves.

On April 16, Reuters reported that since Columbine, 2,000 Americans have been killed in mass shootings and that we had more deaths from firearms in 2019 than car accidents. The column is titled “A timeline of mass shootings in the U.S.” because we have so many mass shootings we need a timeline.

In one of his many recent interviews to promote his new book, former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) was reminded that 20 first graders were slaughtered by a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut while he was Speaker. “Back when Newtown happened,” he said, “we couldn’t find common ground with the other side. Hopefully there is some common ground to be found…. because frankly this is heartbreaking. I think it’s embarrassing our country to the rest of the world.”

Revisionist history. Headlines from Speaker Boehner’s tenure commonly read “Boehner Opposes New Gun Control Bill” (Jan. 2011) and “Speaker Boehner Won’t Commit To House Vote on Gun Control Bill” (Apr. 2013).

In the last month alone, eight Americans were shot to death at a FedX facility in Indiana; a retired NFL player shot and killed a doctor, his wife, two grandchildren, and two air-conditioning technicians working at the doctor’s home in South Carolina; four were shot to death at a real estate office in California, including a nine year-old boy; a man killed ten people, including a police officer, in a Colorado grocery store.

Aaron Smith, who covers the firearms industry for Forbes, reported in December 2020 that since Newtown “federal gun control laws have barely changed. The gun industry continues to produce assault weapons and high-capacity magazines without additional federal restrictions. Gun sales are on the rise. Mass shootings have also risen this year, even with much of the country under lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.”

There are so many places innocent Americans can go to get shot: grade school, middle school, high school, college, movie theatre, concert, nightclub, warehouse, office, high school football game, massage parlor, gas station, hair salon, Congressional baseball game, birthday party, airport baggage claim, amusement park, restaurant, shopping mall, grocery store, your own house.

To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five, so it goes, and so on.

To paraphrase John Boehner, Congressional Republicans’ political impotence is an international embarrassment.

I recently stood in the parking lot at Kroger in Lawrenceburg talking to a friend’s husband, a gun owner, about the good guy vs. bad guy argument. “What a joke,” he said, pointing at the store. “If I walked in there hellbent on shooting a bunch of people, you know what I’d do? I’d pick out the good guy with a gun and shoot him first. Now I’ve got two guns and everybody’s running and calling 911. The chance of some yahoo, with all that adrenaline pumping through him, shooting me before I can kill at least a dozen people is cowboy fantasy.”

Yes, open carry is legal in Kentucky. This is the law. “It’s my God-given right!” the 2nd Amendment junkies scream. And according to Everytown for Gun Safety, gun suicides and suicide attempts cost Kentucky an estimated $2.8 billion each year. Kentucky ranks 15th in the nation for the highest rate of gun suicide. Sixty-six percent of Kentucky gun deaths are suicides.

Is gun suicide our God-given right, too? How very Christian of us.

Twenty-two years later, on this horrifying and all-American anniversary, when I Google the word “Columbine” the first three suggestions are Columbine shooting, Columbine flower, Columbine shooters.

My daughter graduated high school six weeks after Columbine. My daughter just turned 40.

A year ago this week, Newtown mother Nelba Marquez-Greene tweeted the photo below, writing, “There is a purple box, in a rarely opened closet in my house, of my daughter’s clothes. The clothes with the bullet holes she was wearing the last day she breathed. It’s tiny, b/c she was only 6.”