Thoughts about background checks [UPDATED]Published 5:12am Monday, March 11, 2013 Updated 7:13am Monday, March 11, 2013
Robyn Anderson, a friend of Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, purchased shotguns and a Hi-Point 9mm Carbine at The Tanner Gun Show in December 1998 from unlicensed sellers in Colorado.
Because Anderson purchased the firearms for someone else, the transaction was illegal and referred to as a straw purchase.
Shortly after the April 1999 Columbine High School massacre, Anderson told the U.S. House Judiciary Committee that a background check would have made her avoid buying the weapons.
Klebold and Harris previously purchased a TEC-DC9 assault pistol from a pizza shop employee named Mark Manes with help from Phillip Duran. They knew that Klebold and Harris were too young to purchase the assault weapon. Nonetheless, they sold it for $500. Manes and Duran later served time in prison and were ordered to pay compensation to Columbine survivors, following a civil lawsuit.
Families of the victims shared $2.53 million from lawsuits, most of it from the families of Harris and Klebold through insurance payments.
The gunmen killed 12 students and one teacher and injured 23 other people at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., before killing themselves.
That event always sticks in my memory since I have a son who graduated in 1999 from Fergus Falls High School. I also attended a meeting in the Denver area (near Littleton) only a few days before the massacre.
Used in the Columbine shootings were the TEC-DC9 firearm, Hi-Point 9mm Carbine, Savage 67H pump-action shotgun and a Savage 311-D 12-gauge shotgun.
On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members prior to taking his own life at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Before driving to the school, Lanza shot and killed his mother, Nancy, at their Newtown home.
Nancy Lanza owned a AR-15, a lightweight, magazine-fed semi-automatic rifle that her son used in the massacre.
This event also hits home with me. This past fall, a few weeks before the events at Sandy Hook, I vacationed about 50 miles away. My sister lives in Middletown, Conn., and knows people who have ties to those who lost children in the massacre.
Frank DeAngelis was the principal at Columbine during the massacre in 1999, and remains the principal there today. Although the situation at Columbine was different from what happened in Newtown, DeAngelis said all the mass shootings in the United States begs a question about when the nation will take action.
As for legislation, reforming background checks for gun purchases seems like the best chance for passage at both the state and federal levels. Less likely is passage of bills related to purchases of certain firearms and limitations on magazine capacities.
Gun control proponents point out that the field weapon of the Revolutionary War was a muzzle-loading musket with an attached bayonet. It took about one minute to load and discharge. They also point out that today’s AR-15 can discharge many bullets per minute.
“Our founding fathers wrote and ratified the Constitution and Second Amendment with the vision that Americans would be keeping muskets in the closet , not weapons with high-capacity magazines,” said Pete Boelter of North Branch in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre maintains that increased background checks will have no effect in the real world on stopping crime or keeping those with mental illness from committing horrible acts.
He further states that background checks would be selectively enforced and abused.
“You’re creating a registry of all the law-abiding people in the country who own firearms,” he said.
To date, LaPierre and members of the NRA have the upper hand when it comes to stopping more gun control and efforts to limit magazine capacity. The jury is still out, however, on the issue of revising background checks.
It behooves all of us to take a look at recent history. Lessons from Columbine and Sandy Hook can at least provide some food for thought.