Getting Columbine Right

More gun control wouldn't have stopped this tragedy. You're wrong, Al

By Dave Kopel

10/12/00 10:40 a.m., National Review Online. More by Kopel about Columbine.

In the presidential debate last night, Al Gore claimed that more gun control might have prevented the Columbine murders. While this statement was not a lie — because Gore may well have believed it — it was palpably false.

What Gore said was this:

Look, this is the year — this is in the aftermath of Columbine and Paducah and all of the places around our country where the nation has been shocked by these weapons in the hands of the wrong people.

The woman who bought the guns for the two boys who did that killing at Columbine said that if she had had to give her name and fill out a form there, she would not have bought those guns. That conceivably could have prevented that tragedy.

The truth is this:

Several months before the Columbine massacre, the killers obtained firearms from two suppliers. The first was a 22-year-old Columbine graduate named Mark Manes (ironically, the son of a longtime Handgun Control, Inc., activist). Manes bought a pistol at a gun show and gave it to the two killers (who were under 18 at the time).

Colorado law prohibits giving handguns to juveniles, with certain exceptions, and Manes is currently serving time for this offense in a Colorado prison. The second supplier was an 18-year-old fellow student at Columbine, Robyn Anderson, who bought three long guns for the killers at a Denver-area gun show in December 1998.

Both Manes and Anderson were lawful gun purchasers and could legally have bought the guns from a firearms dealer at a gun store, a gun show, or anywhere else.

Nevertheless, shortly after the Columbine killings, the various gun prohibition groups began putting out press releases about the "gun show loophole." This is an audacious lie, since there is no "loophole" involving gun shows. The law at gun shows is exactly the same as it is everywhere else.

Mark Manes committed a felony by obtaining a handgun for the young killers. He has never claimed that the existence of another law, regarding gun show sales, would have deterred him.

What about Robyn Anderson?

On June 4, 1999, Good Morning America presented a "kids and guns" program. Anderson was flown to Washington for the segment. The first part of the program discussed various proposals, including background checks on private sales at gun shows.

Immediately after the introductory segment, Diane Sawyer introduced Robyn Anderson and asked: "Anything you hear this morning [that would] have stopped you from accompanying them and help[ing] them buy the guns?" Anderson replied: "I guess if it had been illegal, if I had known that it was illegal, I wouldn't have gone." Yet, on January 26, 2000, testifying before the Colorado House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Anderson claimed that even if the purchase were legal, but there had been a background check of her entirely clean record, she would not have purchased the guns.

Whichever version is true, the facts show that Anderson was not afraid to divulge her identity when buying a gun for her wicked friends. When Good Morning America asked, "And they actually paid for the guns, or did you?" Anderson replied: "It was their money, yes. All I did was show a driver's license." (The private collectors asked to see a driver's license to verify that she was over 18, even though there was no legal requirement that they do so.)

Since Anderson did not mind revealing her identity to three separate sellers, is it realistic to believe that revealing her identity for an instant check would have stopped her? The Colorado instant background check does not keep permanent records on gun buyers, so even with background checks on private sales at gun shows, there would have been no permanent record of Anderson's purchase. And Anderson's new and improved talking points claim only that the prospect of a permanent record would have deterred her.

Putting aside Anderson's shifting stories, she is plainly an irresponsible, self-centered person. After the murders took place, she refused to come forward and help the police investigation. It took an anonymous tip for the police to find out about her. And, in marked contrast to Mark Manes, Anderson has never apologized for her role in the Columbine murders.

Even if you accept the version of Robyn Anderson's stories that is most supportive of gun control, no gun-show crackdown would have prevented Columbine. The older of the two killers could have bought his guns in a store legally, since he turned 18 before the Columbine attack. Indeed, in a videotape made before the killings, the murderers said that if they had not obtained their guns the way they did, they would have found other ways. There is no reason to disbelieve them on this point.

The only law that would have some effect on Robyn Anderson and similar gun molls was introduced in the Colorado legislature this year by Colorado State Representative Don Lee, whose district includes Columbine. His "Robyn Anderson Bill" now makes it a crime to give a long gun to a juvenile without the consent of his parents. This law covers Anderson's first version of her story, in which she told Good Morning America that the only deterrent for her would have been a law making her conduct illegal.

Whatever the other merits of proposals to impose special restrictions on gun shows, these would not have prevented Columbine, and it is chillingly cynical for their proponents to use Columbine as a pretext.

Other writings from the Independence Institute on Columbine.

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