A Fighting Chance

Monday, February 1st, 1999

By Richard Griffiths

If you feel grief, fear and shock from the events in Littleton, Colorado you are not alone. The nation has had its collective breath knocked out its stomach. All of us have been left shaking our heads at what has happened. My reactions, perhaps like yours, have ranged from at first disbelief, then to anger, and now sadness and regret for the lost and ruined lives.

One teacher and twelve teenagers with hopes and dreams all of whom should be alive right now, looking forward to the arrival of the summer and having fun with their friends. Instead they are all gone. The joy and promise of their lives has now been irrevocably taken from them, their families and all of us. It is a tragedy of epic proportions.

These murders should finally shatter the myth of relying on the police for protection, and expose the insanity of the Clinton administration’s support for Federal laws that have rendered victims in schools defenseless against criminal attack. The reckless way we live our lives indicates most of us are oblivious to the fact that there are only 600,000 sworn police officers in America. At any one time only a fraction of these police officers are available for patrol duty and the task they face is daunting. No matter how hard they try they cannot be expected to protect everyone.

The courts recognize these facts when they reject citizen lawsuits against police departments for failure to provide protection. In Warren vs. District of Columbia, for example, the court rejected a lawsuit against the police by three rape victims who got no help after calling the police; the court explained it is a “fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection to any individual citizen”.

 

The chain of events in Columbine High graphically illustrates how thin the blue line of police protection is in America. After Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed two students outside the school, they entered Columbine High, around 11:20 a.m. through an entrance near the school’s cafeteria. Once inside they hurled explosives and sprayed bullets down a hallway. Within minutes a sheriff’s deputy, stationed in the school, confronted the two in the hallway and exchanged gunfire with them but missed. A few minutes later two more deputies arrived and also fought a gun battle, but failed to stop the two killers as they advanced into the adjoining cafeteria.

While under fire, temporarily, from the deputies, Klebold and Harris were unable to kill any students. But having driven off the deputies, the murderers had a free hand. Until the murderers committed suicide, they were left free to hunt their victims. Recently released 911 tapes also reveal that a teacher trapped in the upstairs library had been pleading for help over a cellular phone to a police dispatcher. It was not until 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, however, that the police SWAT teams finally reached the upstairs library to view a scene out of hell.

No one questions the bravery of the officers involved, but the sad truth is that many of the teachers and students inside that building, especially those in the upstairs library, were abandoned to their fate. The police could not intervene in time to save them. Millions of victims of violent crimes can tell you the same sad story the police are spread too thin and they often arrive too late to stop a crime in progress.

Tragically, the passage of recent Federal laws has made the difficult task of self-defense now virtually impossible in certain locations. When those two adolescent Nazis walked into Columbine High they knew their victims would be helpless because it is a gun-free zone. Federal legislation prohibits anyone including administrators and teachers from having a gun — even for self-defense — within 1000 feet of a school. If several of the hundreds of staff and teachers at Columbine High had been armed would the outcome have been any different?

In Pearl, Mississippi, in 1997 it made a difference. Assistant Principal Joel Myrick stopped a killing spree when he retrieved a handgun from his car and subdued a killer in his school.

Because most of are still in mourning we do not want to think of using guns at all. But as details of the events in Columbine High and what happened in that upstairs library are released you need to understand that ultimately, defending your life, and the lives of your family members is your responsibility, not the government’s, and that even well intentioned laws have unintended consequences. In this case, 13 innocent people are now dead in Colorado because the police cannot be relied on to protect everyone, and because our government denied the adults at Columbine High even a fighting chance.

–30–

Graduate student Richard Griffiths began studying gun control laws after the murder of a police officer in his family.