Twenty Years, Little Progress

Well, today is that notorious day. Yes, April 20. Hitler’s birthday (he’d be 130), Weed Day (blaze it?), and the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

Since Columbine, we’ve had a number of school shootings, and I don’t think much has really changed. Mental health and its importance to overall health has been given greater due in the media and by medical professionals. I don’t follow the gun control debate,* but I don’t think much has improved there. Video games have gotten more graphic, violent, and all consuming. Social media has made it harder to be a teenager… and teenagers will always be fascinated with death, to some degree.

I was reading in the news about an 18-year-old female named Sol Pais who was obsessed with Columbine, even to the point of having a strange online journal that looks to be straight out of the early Internet days of the 90s and imitating the musical tastes, writing/art style, and nihilism of the Columbine killers. It seemed like she was about to travel to Columbine from Florida to make a bizarre pilgrimage to Columbine and do some kind of damage. But it turned out that the only damage she did was to herself: she committed suicide.

Back when I was 18, I was fascinated by Columbine, mostly because I was roughly the same age as the killers and many of the victims. I liked the same music and had a fascination with darkness that most teenagers end up growing out of. I would skulk around community college wearing my then-boyfriend’s trench coat and his hat (turned around backwards), but I would never have hurt a soul. I think I just wanted to look like a badass, but in reality, I was just a shy, awkward nerd. And I obviously grew out of my fake-badass stage and became a somewhat reasonable adult.

The trouble is that it is difficult to tell which teenagers will grow out of this obsession with death and which will end up committing heinous acts. Nobody foresaw Sol Pais’s destructive tendencies. She was just a quiet kid, intelligent and talented in art. People probably would have thought she was smart enough to know better than to do what she did. I don’t have any good ideas of how to prevent shootings or suicides, and although help is offered and mental illness is not as stigmatized as it was in the past, some kids still will not ask for help or realize that they need help or be recognized as someone who needs help.

I suppose mandatory mental health screenings at school or the doctor’s office would be a good first step, but the person being evaluated could always lie if he wanted to. Maybe it’s just the way the world is. There will never be perfect happiness or peace. No amount of preventive measures can stop a killer whose actions nobody foresaw or a suicidal person who kept everything inside.

*I have never owned a gun and never fired a gun (except a paintball gun, but that doesn’t count). My ignorant thought on guns is that hunting rifles and tiny guns for self-defense are fine, assuming that the purchaser is thoroughly checked out, but the trouble comes when automatic weapons (and their ammo) that are designed solely for killing can be easily obtained. I don’t see the point of anyone other than the military having access to weapons like that, and they all ought to be banned. If a collector wants to have guns, he should only be allowed to obtain guns and not ammo.