Who's Responsible For Columbine?

It's time to redirect our attention

By Dave Kopel, of the Independence Institute

5/25/00 9:30 a.m., National Review Online

Ever since the Columbine High School murders, there has been a great national hand-wringing about how "we" were responsible for the murders. Last week's release of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office Report suggests that perhaps it is time to redirect our attention.

While the Report contains chilling 911 audiotapes, and a video of the two killers walking through the school cafeteria, the Report, fortunately, does not include the videocassettes that the killers taped of themselves, in the days before the crime. To have included those videos would have been to indulge the killers' quest for fame, and to encourage other wicked but obscure people to seek similar infamy.

To deny the Columbine murderers a little of the notoriety they sought, it would be wise for all Americans never to utter the murderers' names again. On the Jewish holiday of Purim, when the Book of Esther is read in the Temple, the congregation uses noisemakers and shouts to drown out every mention of the story's villain (a government official who planned a mass murder of the Jews in Babylon). Why not similarly obliterate the names of the two mass murderers from Littleton?

But even without the videotapes, the Sheriff's Report provides significant information about the backgrounds of the killers. For both of them, what is most striking is that so little is unusual. The killers lives' exhibited nothing of the wanton neglect and abuse associated with the childhoods of other notorious mass murderers, such as Charles Manson.

Absent any particular evidence against the killers' parents, America has indulged in a witch-hunt for the "cause" of Columbine. Gun owners, violent entertainment, competition in school, and many other elements of American society have all been blamed.

But this is nonsense. Millions of children play violent video games indoors (as their immediate predecessors played "war" and "cowboys & Indians" outdoors), or watch violent programs on television, or use firearms for sports, or spend almost all their time dosed on powerful drugs like Ritalin and Luvox (the latter was used by the older of the Columbine killers), or attend government schools with mean-spirited jocks who bully everyone else while the sports-obsessed school administration looks the other way. Yet all these millions of children do not spend a year planning a mass murder of innocent classmates.

What Columbine shows is that evil is not always the result of a bad environment. Evil can be a conscious choice. The Columbine killers knew this. The older one wrote in his diary: "It's my fault! Not my parents, not my brothers, not my friends, not my favorite bands, not computer games, not the media, it's mine."

The responsibility for the wicked deeds of the two Columbine murderers is theirs alone. The moment that they passed into the next life, they began paying the price for that responsibility. But of course to say that evil choices may have afterlife consequences is inconsistent with our modern culture in which only material items (e.g., tobacco, guns) can be evil, and people are nothing more than victims of their environment.

Other writings from the Independence Institute on Columbine.  

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