By Jim Allen, Editor, NuVote Reach
Karissa Marcum, Columbine Survivor and American Hero
A gutsy survivor of the Columbine High School massacre, Karissa Marcum, first told me her story in 2007, when she was a Washington, DC-based intern under my watch, when I worked at The Hill newspaper. Over past few days, since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, she has privileged me to examine and write about her thoughts on the subjects of guns, grief, nagging eternal questions and healing, in the context of a range of punditry and prescriptions to stop the violence in America.
At age 28, Karissa Marcum, (along with an elder sibling) has lived half of her life with the memories of one terrible day in Littleton, Colorado, where two deranged school mates of hers, the shooters, culminated a diabolical murder-suicide pact.
On April 20, 1999, Marcum was a 14-year-old ninth grader. Because her mother died when she was a very young child, she was being raised by her loving father.
Marcum was in first year of public school and seated in the Columbine cafeteria with her sister, and 486 other people, mostly children. The shooters had earlier that day left two duffel bags on the floor beside two different tables near them. Shots rang out from the front of the building – pop-pop-pop-pop. Panic and pandemonium – pop-pop-pop – people were screaming and running for the cafeteria exits.
Marcum and her sister ran too. But her sister fell and Marcum turned back and helped her get back to her feet as the pop-pop-pop-pop of closing-in gunfire reverberated – the horror.
They managed to run to safety, uninjured, but by the time the shooting stopped, 13 others (plus the 2 shooters) were dead and many others were injured.
The deviant violence staged in Newtown, CT last Friday, which left dead 20 children and 6 educators, touched hearts around the world and understandably opened up some old wounds for Marcum.
“I’ve definitely had a good cry or a few…but I mostly just feel incredible empathy for what those people are going through…so senseless,” Marcum said late on the night after the Sandy Hook shootings.
That same night, former Arkansas Republican Governor and Fox News presenter Mike Huckabee said he believes the root cause of such tragedies is essentially a divine vacuum in America.
“It’s an interesting thing, we ask why there’s violence in our schools but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” said Huckabee.
Even though, in September 1999, a deranged man interrupted a teen prayer rally at the Wedgwood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, TX and opened fire on over 100 defenseless worshippers with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun and a .380-caliber handgun. Seven people were killed, four of whom were teenagers.
Huckabee this week also wrote on his website, in the context of Sandy Hook, about a possible causal connection between violence and same-sex marriage.
“We dismiss the notion of natural law and the notion that there are moral absolutes and seemed amazed when some kids make it their own morality to kill innocent children. We diminish and even hold in contempt the natural family of a father and mother creating and then responsibly raising the next generation and then express dismay that kids feel no real connection to their families or even the concept of a family,” wrote Huckabee.
General-public reaction to the child murders at Sandy Hook will likely provide President Barack Obama and Congress with the necessary political capital to relatively quickly reinstitute bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
The original assault-weapons legislation, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, with a 2004 sunset provision, prohibited the manufacturing of 18 models of semiautomatic weapons and the manufacture of high-capacity ammunition magazines housing more than 10 rounds.
As I understand it, the Bushmaster .223 rifle (an AR-15 semiautomatic-type rifle) used by the Sandy Hook shooter was not on that list, but his 30-round high-capacity magazines were.
Among the mass shootings that occurred during the effective period of the assault weapons ban are:
1998 – Thurston High School, OR: 4 dead, a 15 year old got his father’s Ruger semi-automatic rifle, shot and killed his parents, then shot up the school, getting off 51 shots and making 37 hits.
1999 – Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shooting, CA: Gunman fired 70 shots with a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol wounding five people and shortly thereafter shot and killed a mail carrier.
1999 – Columbine High School, CO: 13 dead, TEC-DC9 assault pistol, Hi-Point 9mm Carbine, Savage 67H pump-action shotgun, and a Savage 311-D 12-gauge shotgun.
2000 – Wakefield, MA Massacre: 7 dead, AK-47 variant, 12-gauge shotgun, and a .32 caliber pistol. He fired off a total of 37 rounds.
Reporter Ginny Simone, in her NRA News webcasts this week, essentially broke the NRA’s virtual silence on Sandy Hook.
“…As the nation continues to mourn the loss of the 26 innocent victims” [President Obama has ordered the drafting of legislation]. “Measures that would likely include the assault-weapons ban because word from the White House is that the ban remains a commitment of the president,” Simone said, adding “a ban we all know was a failed experiment from the start.
“…And you look at Connecticut, and they’re number five when it comes to the strictest gun laws in the country,” Simone said in a webcast this week.
“If one of those [Sandy Hook] school administrators that first confronted him [the shooter] had a firearm, we might not be talking about what we’re talking about today,” opined Simone.
Marcum seemed anxious about the notion of armed school guards. “That’s a tough one,” she sighed, early on Friday morning, a week to the day after Sandy Hook.
“I firmly believe that even if we posted a security guard at every school, grocery store and movie theater, it wouldn’t be a guarantee [that Columbine or Sandy Hook types of violence will not happen],” said Marcum.
There was an armed guard on duty at Columbine, who was quickly joined by a second guard who was nearby, both of whom fired at one of the shooters, but both failed to stop the shooter.
“When someone is bent on destruction, a security guard who is outgunned is likely to be outmatched by a mad man, nine times out of ten…May we see God’s great mercy,” Marcum continued.
“We talk about gun control and other preventative measures because we are trying not only to stop these things from happening again, but because we are trying to answer the fundamental question of why? How could someone plot the murder of children?” Marcum added.
America appears to be on the verge of making concerted attempts to curb what President Obama on Wednesday called “the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country,” while announcing the creation of a task force commissioned to find solutions.”
The NRA on Friday put forward what they previewed in a written statement on Tuesday as “meaningful contributions to help make sure this [Sandy Hook-type event] never happens again.”
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a news conference in Washington. LaPierre also called on Congress “to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school in this nation.”
I personally am not sure if anyone, or any group, can “make sure” something like Columbine or Sandy Hook never happens again. There may be too many guns already in too many peoples’ hands in this generation.
In any care, as difficult as it may be, politically and practically, to find effective solutions to the culture of violence in America, I believe the president may have quite nicely framed the sentiment of much of the nation.
“We have a deep obligation, all of us, to try,” said the president on Wednesday, adding that he expected “compromise and common sense” to prevail.
“I believe, even after [surviving] Columbine, that there is more good in the world than bad and that evil doesn’t have the ultimate victory over us. Our world is just so broken…but this is not the end, I believe in a heavenly home,” added Marcum.
Marcum has built a wonderful life for herself – her“story [still] developing. ” She is warm, with plenty of life in her eyes and through it all, is, generally, delightfully comical.
She gives one a sense of the best potential of the human spirit.
On the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, her mind set was one of outreach to others. Among the first words she shared with me were “You know, the past year or so I’ve been feeling like I want to talk about my experiences [at Columbine] in the hopes that they’ll encourage other people. I’m not quite sure what that looks like, but I think it would also be a way to give all of this terrible tragedy some greater significance,” said Marcum, an American hero.
Note: It’s been widely reported that NRA News is owned and operated by the NRA. To be clear, Ginny Simone is a Senior Vice President for the Mercury Group, a communications firm and subsidiary of the Oklahoma City-based Ackerman-McQueen advertising agency for whom I worked for a period, beginning in 2007. To my knowledge, unless there have been major changes there, the NRA is a client of the Mercury Group, which produces NRA News for the NRA.