For everyone with an agenda to push, the Littleton shootings provided
the perfect Rorschach. With a plethora of examples in July’s issue of
Reason magazine, Jesse Walker shows how so many have instantly delivered
“the lessons of Littleton.”

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens looked and saw young killers who didn’t
“have the same moral background as the rest of us.” Rev. Jerry Falwell,
fresh from the debate about the possible off-beat leanings of
Tinky-Winky, the lavender Teletubby, looked and suggested that we
weren’t dealing with straight shooters. “Two filthy fags,” declared a
press release from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, “slaughter 13
people at Columbine High.” While George Will saw institutional disarray
and called for more school uniforms.

The Family Research Council noted the date of the shootings, April
20, was the very day of The National Marijuana Smoke-Off. “The police
code for marijuana, too,” the Council explained, “is 420,” i.e., April

For the dwindling group of diehard collectivists at the People’s
Tribune newspaper, Columbine was proof, once again, of the sweeping
contradictions in free market capitalism. “Our youth see what the future
holds for them,” they proclaimed. “They know that a society based on a
market economy holds them valueless.”

One can quite easily show, of course, that few youths find themselves
more valueless than those growing up in what’s left of the expiring
non-market economies in the world. One, too, could accurately remind
Gov. Owens, Mr. Will and Rev. Falwell that millions of inhabitants of
this planet have been consistently and ruthlessly slaughtered over the
centuries by the fully uniformed and thoroughly heterosexual, folks
altogether activated by grand and sacred missions.

From the privatizers and pacifists among us, Walker shows that
Columbine delivered another picture of the ineptitude of the Leviathan
State. “Public schools,” said a press release from The Libertarian
Party, “may be a contributing factor in the recent spate of school
shootings.” Pacifists and anarchists, marching on D.C. from the War
Resisters League in New York City, looked at Colorado and saw no great
moral distinction between the killing of defenseless students at
Columbine and defenseless civilians in Belgrade. One woman wearing a
black trench coat and a black stocking hat carried a sign outside the
White House that said, “Clinton: Trench Coat Role Model.”

For Majority Whip Tom DeLay, the whole mess in Littleton had its
origin in birth control pills and the teaching of evolution. Amidst
calls for more gun control laws, the National Rifle Association looked
at Columbine and asked why the Clinton team had prosecuted only 13 out
of over 6,000 kids who’d been caught with guns at school, a violation of
the federal Gun Free School Zones Act, and prosecuted not one of the
tens of thousands of felons who had attempted to buy guns in violation
of the Brady law. As it turned out, the Littleton killers, Eric Harris
and Dylan Klebold, had broken more than a dozen gun laws that were
already on the books.

Overall, says Walker, America’s pundits quickly delivered a broad
range of Littleton “lessons,” often with “a tone that was simultaneously
hysterical and pompous.” On the day of the shootings, Peter Jennings,
for instance, showed a clip from The Basketball Diaries in which a
trench coat-clad Leonardo DiCaprio carries a gun to school and blows
away his classmates. In
Washington, at the closing of the “Save the Children from Violence Day,”
a young man asked Bill Clinton how he reconciled complaining about media
violence with the nightly bombing of Serbian civilians. Criminologist
Michael Rustigan told CNN viewers that America’s parents had dropped the
ball. “What we’re seeing here in Littleton,” said Rustigan, “is
non-parenting parents.” Camile Paglia, in contrast, blamed traditional
two-parent families (and the industrial revolution), while screenwriter
Stephen Schiff blamed shopping malls. Tipper Gore saw too much craziness
and called for more government spending for schoolhouse therapy. Others
promoted an increase in random drug testing, more vouchers, more metal
detectors, fewer violent video games, fewer students on Ritalin, and
less student-on-student harassment. A Littleton student told Newsweek
that Harris and Klebold, routinely and mercilessly taunted, “walked with
their heads down” through Columbine’s halls “because if they looked up
they’d get thrown into lockers and get called fag.”

Attorney Mike Breen, targeting the video game industry, filed a
lawsuit seeking $100 million for the families of three students killed
in an earlier school shooting. According to Breen, Mike Carneal, 14,
became obsessed with violent video games. “Carneal clipped off 9 shots
in 10 seconds,” explains Breen. “Eight of those shots were hits. Three
were head and neck shots and were kills. That is way beyond the military
standard for expert marksmanship. This was a kid who had never fired a
pistol in his life, but because of his obsession with computer games had
turned himself into an expert marksman.”

For Bruce Wiseman, president of the Citizens Commission on Human
Rights, the Columbine Rorschach test shows the consequences of labeling
too much normal childhood behavior as deviant. As it now stands, one in
every 30 American kids between ages five and 18 has a prescription for
Ritalin. “If you think the Colombian drug cartel is the biggest drug
dealer in the world, think again,” says Wiseman; “it’s your neighborhood

And so, from Falwell to Wiseman, Littleton has developed into a
different picture for everyone, a way to spin an agenda, a way to call
for more discipline and more lawsuits or less Hollywood and less
Ritalin, for less government or more. And for Bill Clinton, Columbine
presented yet one more chance to moralize about better conduct and
keeping natural impulses under control. “I hate it,” he said, “when
people blame someone else and don’t take responsibility.”

Ralph R. Reiland, Robert Morris
College economics professor, is co-author with Sarah J. McCarthy of “Mom
& Pop vs. the Dreambusters: The Small Business Revolt Against Big
Government,” available from McGraw-Hill at 1-800-262-4729,

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