The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


Columbine: The smoking gun of our government’s incompetence

The tragedy occurred 25 years ago, yet it still feels like yesterday to American students
Lauren Holcomb
Frequent school shootings across the United States and subsequent lack of action have led to a chronic state of fear for many students. Recent mass shootings in schools created a new risk for students. “I’m constantly anxious about school shootings. The idea that it could happen and the prevalence of [school shootings in America] is scary. Whenever alarms go off in the school, I fear that [a shooting] might happen,” senior Carlee Priem said.

The first school shooting in America of 2024 took place in Iowa on January 4, totaling one death and seven injuries. I was in journalism class when I got the notification from The New York Times. And that was it. No national call to action, no school walkouts lamenting the failure of our politicians to protect children and no legislation passed to prevent future shootings. 

And while one death may not typically constitute a national tragedy, an 11-year-old child died as a result of repeated gross negligence by the American political system. An 11-year-old isn’t even old enough to see a PG-13 movie alone in theaters because that’s deemed to be too violent and upsetting, but 11 is apparently old enough to be afraid to die scared and alone in a place where safety should be a guarantee. And, it’s old enough to witness a peer and a friend, die. This reality alone can and should be fueling constant discussions, and yet I didn’t even see a single message — no matter how empty — calling for prayer.

Radio silence.

I should be used to this by now. I was born in 2006, making me the same age many of The Sandy Hook Massacre victims had they lived. Hardly a week before winter break, while six-year-old me was making snow-themed crafts, 20 innocent children were massacred mercilessly. And now, while I, at 18, type this in remembrance of them, they’ll remain eternally six. 

But there can’t be a discussion about school shootings in America without delving into the tragedy that was the Columbine High School Massacre

Twenty-five years ago, Columbine set a precedent for human depravity. In less than an hour, 15 people, including the two shooters,  died and over 20 others were wounded. Of those fifteen dead, all but one were students.  

Many of the victims of Columbine have been made into martyrs — or a person who sacrificed something, in particular, life — for the sake of principle. But make no mistake, the victims of Columbine are not martyrs because they died for nothing. They were murdered children and teachers, greedily made into something more meaningful for our peace of mind because if we pretend that they died for a selfless and spiritual reason, it’s more digestible. 

One figure of Columbine that I come back to again and again is Patrick Ireland, or “the boy in the window.” He’s been dubbed that because of a haunting photo captured of that day. Ireland was shot three times and had been left for dead. Yet miraculously, he survived and, for three hours, had dragged himself to a window 50 feet away which had two SWAT team members underneath standing on an emergency vehicle. Ireland stretched out and hurled himself out of the window and fell over seven feet directly into the SWAT members’ arms. 

Ireland survived the shooting and the fall, but the two SWAT team members were — deservedly — criticized for not actively doing anything to lower the boy safely to the ground. This incident effectively represents to many the lack of empathy or effort extended by most adults toward victims of school shootings. While there is certainly no hesitation in busting out thoughts and prayers after the event, actual action during it is less reliable. 

Another disturbing example of this negligence is the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Police responders were heavily criticized for a response that was regarded as a “failure” amongst the local and national community. The police entered the school in just three minutes after the gunman did, but it took over an hour to actually end the massacre. Mistakes made by the police included poor communication and a lack of clear leadership. 

The Robb Elementary School is the third deadliest school shooting. Two educators were killed, both while courageously shielding their students. The other 19 victims were all between the ages of nine to 11

The issue with these numbers is that they don’t tell the whole story. Factually, they show the irresponsibility of the police responders and systemic violence. But they don’t tell us what we lost. 

They don’t tell us that 10-year-old Amerie Joe Garza wanted to be an art teacher, or that 48-year-old teacher Irma Garcia had married her high school sweetheart just a year prior, and he passed away from a heart attack two days after her murder. It’s easy to forget that these statistics also represent aspirations, family members, favorite colors, and endearing little quirks.  

This is still somehow, all lost on politicians. South Carolina Republican senator Lindsey Graham is a grand example of neglecting the root of the problem and instead encouraging worthless and ineffective alternative methods as opposed to advocating for simple gun reform. Graham would instead opt to mobilize retired and former military service members and train them as security guards and place them in school districts nationwide. 

Since Columbine, there have been many efforts to implement preventative measures in schools. Before I was even born, Columbine decided a lot of things about my future education. Columbine determined that we would have security officers and that I was to practice gun drills with my classmates, hiding in closets while the aforementioned security officer rattled the doorknob. Currently at Parkway, it’s disallowed to open a door to anyone outside during school hours. 

“For Spark, I was at Central Middle last year, and they did a school shooting drill. I want to be a teacher in the future and I never really thought about it from the perspective of, ‘Oh, that’s great. [A school shooting] could just happen,’” senior Will Brown said.

Unfortunately, these measures don’t always work. 

Uvalde had automatically locking doors and law enforcement radios. The Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 still ranks as the sixth-deadliest school shooting, yet they also had an armed school resource officer

There’s another thing that the militarization approach fails to continue again and again, there are increasing shootings outside of schools. You can turn every high school into a fortress, but as soon as school is out, students are still dying at the mall, in convenience stores and at home

The issue is especially close to home to many Missourian high schools. I harbor a deep love for my state, but it’d be absurd to deny that there is a strong gun culture. It’s nearly impossible to even go out in public without seeing at least one bumper sticker declaring love for the Second Amendment. I remember that as a child, the local Chuck E. Cheese I frequented was right next to a gun store

In fact, Missouri’s extremely lax gun laws are ranked as #38 out of 50 states by the strength of gun laws. Such laws include the right to carry loaded guns without a permit, the right for domestic abusers to carry laws and that don’t require a background check on private sales of guns.  

Missouri tends to prioritize gun rights, which is evident in both the lax legislature regarding guns and the availability of guns which arises from the aforementioned laws. “There is 100% a strong gun culture in Missouri. On my way to the store yesterday, I passed by three different gun show signs. It’s really dangerous because I worry about dangerous people getting guns,” senior Carlee Priem said. (Lauren Holcomb)

Just as with any sort of tragedy, people have a strong “this only happens to other people” mindset regarding shootings. That is to say, no one thinks it can happen to them until it’s too late. And as anyone could have foreseen, it happened here. In October of 2022, a shooting took place in St. Louis at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, less than half an hour away from Parkway West. Two people tragically passed away, one student and one educator, both beloved by their community. For many people at Parkway, that is the moment when shootings stopped feeling like something that only happened to “other people.”

In response to the shooting, Missouri Governor Mike Parson made a statement that can’t be described as anything other than a disaster. Parson told the media that guns can be taken from individuals if they display symptoms of mental illness. In this statement, you can see Parson using an interesting narrative device typically referred to as “lying.” Parson is referring to red flag laws, which allow for law enforcement to seize the arms of individuals who show risk of harming themselves or others, laws that Missouri does not have. Even worse, Missouri lawmakers recently considered a bill called “Anti-Red Flag Gun Seizure Act” which would state that red flag laws are a violation of the Second Amendment.

Governor Parson also made another baseless claim, saying that all the laws in the world wouldn’t prevent gun violence. This is not even close to true. Law enforcement visited the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School shooter’s home on multiple occasions this year, and on at least three of those visits, police could have theoretically confiscated any weapons in his possession at the time if the law allowed it. Had Missouri had red flag laws, the police could have seized his guns and deaths and traumas could have been prevented. 

The shooter acquired the gun through a legal, yet shady, method. An FBI background check successfully blocked the shooter’s initial attempt to buy a rifle in St. Charles. Later, the shooter purchased a rifle through a private sale. The fact that this is legal in Missouri should be astounding, but it isn’t. Anyone familiar with American gun laws is aware of the many loopholes that render existing gun laws useless.  

After all, aside from mass shootings, over 1,350 people die of gun violence every year in Missouri. In spite of this, Parson doesn’t just refuse to pass gun regulation, but actively opposes other politicians passing it. When St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones passed a law that made openly carrying firearms illegal, Parson spoke against it. “You gotta be very careful to stay in your lanes so cities can’t just go out there and do what they want to do,” Parson said. 

This is why he signed the Second Amendment Preservation Act in 2021, which invalidated federal gun laws that “infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment.” The act that was signed at a gun store and shooting range, no less. Parson also said that federal laws barring abusers from owning guns should be ignored.

In June 2023, Jones proposed a bill that would ban “military-grade weapons” such as the AR-15. Parson fired back, vehemently defending the Second Amendment despite the fact that just in 2022, St. Louis had the highest rate of murder for any major U.S. city. On Christmas Eve of 2023 alone, there were five shootings. To say that St. Louis has a major gun violence problem would be a gross understatement, yet Parson continues to hold the contention that people are the issue, not guns. 

“Guns don’t shoot people, people shoot people” is a conservative pet phrase that many are well-acquainted with. There is some truth to it: the people committing these mass shootings are more likely than not already inclined towards violence. However, most mass shootings have been committed by white men, so either subconsciously or not, there is a shocking amount of sympathy towards these shooters.

It’s true that many shootings have been a result of poor mental health and bullying, and most of the mass shootings are theorized to serve as violent and explosive suicides. And there is a mental health epidemic in America, but that does not negate the fact that there is still a problem with guns. Mental illness may sometimes be the explanation for why a person chose to commit a mass shooting, but it’s certainly not how they did so. Faulty brain chemistry can make someone want to cause harm to others, but it can’t give him the tools to do so. 

Even if mental health was the major factor in school shootings, what’s being done to combat this? What policies has Parson or any other Republican politician implemented to solve the epidemic of mental illness?

“The best we can do federally is institute a waiting period or Medicare for All stuff. [Universal healthcare] will give everyone access to a counselor or therapist if they need it,” Brown said.

Bills could be proposed that would make mental health care more accessible or address many of the issues that lead to depression or anxiety in people. The reason why nothing is being done is that it is an obvious but surprisingly effective scapegoat. 

One of the biggest issues with the American government is our aging representatives, representatives is a very generous term because they certainly don’t represent the younger members of our population. The median age for a member of the House is 57.9 years, and the median age for the Senate is 65.3 years. By the time that Columbine happened, they had been adults for decades. They could never relate to seeing a school shooting and fearing, “Am I next?”

It’s necessary to clarify that politicians can be educated, impartial and empathetic on issues that don’t affect them. However, empathy tends to dissolve when money and power come into play. In 2019, the NRA spent $3.22 million on the campaigns of senators who oppose gun legislation. In 2020, the NRA spent another $2.2 million on these senators. 

As a 2024 grad, I’m likely expected to make like a politician and not care as ideally, I should be able to relax after I graduate in May. Yet, I’m not. The deadliest school shooting in American history took place at Virginia Tech, a university. I won’t be safe by any means for multiple years. However, even if I was, that is still completely irrelevant. 

How much we care about school shootings should not be dependent upon how at risk we are personally. It’s too late to save those who have died as victims of political negligence. The victims of Sandy Hook should be graduating this year. The students who died in Columbine should have settled down and started their own families by now. The last pictures of the Uvalde victims should not depict the rosy cheeks and gapped smiles of children. But there are future memorials to prevent. 

Legislatures like red flag laws and waiting periods would help to prevent guns from falling into and staying in the wrong hands. However, these are useless without a vigilant community that actively looks out for signs of mental illness and potential danger. Keeping an eye out for potentially dangerous individuals is important, as well as extending empathy to people who may be struggling. 

Most importantly, we can never forget those who have suffered as a result of gun violence. We can only ensure our improvement of the future by keeping in mind the mistakes of the past.

View Comments (6)
Donate to Pathfinder
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Parkway West High School. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Lauren Holcomb
Lauren Holcomb, Staff Writer
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 12 Years on staff: 3 What is your favorite piece of literature? "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath. Who is your hero? Either Joan Didion or Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? 
Donate to Pathfinder
Our Goal

Comments (6)

Please use your own name and keep your comments respectful!
All Pathfinder Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • S

    SerenaMay 7, 2024 at 6:49 pm

    This is SO good and SO important Lauren

  • W

    Will GonsiorMay 6, 2024 at 3:39 pm

    It’s a mental health issue AND a gun laws issue and I suspect the amount of money that NRA and big tech funnel into Congress has a lot to do with our inaction on those issues. Great tribute, Lauren. I do understand the fear from a lot of these Parsons/Kemp-vein governors about how a government that *takes* action can be the problem more than a government that doesn’t, but our constitution clearly allows the government to restrict arms possession by those not in a well-regulated militia and regulate interstate commerce, such as the internet.

  • M

    mikalahMay 3, 2024 at 2:20 pm


  • E

    Emily EarlyMay 3, 2024 at 9:03 am

    Lauren, I’m speechless. You are an incredible writer. Thank you for this piece. The world needs it.

  • R

    Risa CidoniMay 2, 2024 at 4:34 pm

    Such a well-written story Lauren!!!

  • S

    Samir ShaikMay 2, 2024 at 1:47 pm

    Incredible story, Lauren!