Tom Mauser Interview
(Father of Columbine Victim - Daniel Mauser)
On April 20th, 1999, Tom Mauser’s son Daniel was murdered by Columbine High School killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
Mr. Mauser hosts a website about his son at: www.danielmauser.com
We spoke with Tom Mauser about his son, that awful day in April of 1999 at Columbine, and what he’s doing with his life these days.
Q – Mr. Mauser, as I understand it, you’ve written a book or are writing a book about the Columbine tragedy. Have you found a publisher for that book and when will it be out?
A – No idea. I’ve pretty much finished it. I’m just struggling with the last few chapters.
Q – Struggling?
A – Yeah, partly how things fit in and to some extent how it ends. In a way, there is no ending to it. There have been a few things going on in terms of my activism, for example there’s now an effort to close the gun show loop at the national level, just like we did at the state level. That may be the ending for the story so I’m gonna wait to see how that plays out.
Q – Do you have a title for the book?
A – The working title is: Walking In Daniel’s Shoes.
Q – Obviously it will be about your son, but will you also write about the events leading up to Columbine and the day of the tragedy as well?
A – It will be not much leading up to other than things about Daniel’s like so people know who he was. It will be a description of what it was like immediately after Columbine as well as the weeks and months after, what it’s like to go through a tragedy like that. I think one thing people don’t especially recognize, I mean I think it’s tragic anytime someone loses a child. It’s just the worst experience you can have as a parent. But then, when you’re also in the middle of a, just a media frenzy like this one was, everybody wants to know what’s going on, everybody wants to know how you feel about this or that controversy. And then of course, putting myself in the middle of this Gun Control issue and all the emotion surrounding that. So, a lot will be a description of what it was like to live through that, those experiences.
Q – Did Daniel ever tell you about the bullying that was going on in Columbine?
A – No, and looking back to a little extent perhaps a little surprised by that. I think there was a little bit of that culture at Columbine. If anybody might’ve been picked on it might’ve been him, ‘cause he was a pretty nerdy kid. Pretty shy. You might think well this might be someone who would get picked on. Although I think he was such a great kid perhaps he wouldn’t be targeted the way the other kids would be.
Q – Did you reach out to any school teachers or ex-school teachers at Columbine? I’ve heard that jocks would throw garbage at Eric and Dylan when they were sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch. There must have been monitors in the cafeteria. I’ve never heard of any school teacher who was a monitor interviewed about that?
A – No. I can’t say that I have either. I can say that I was approached by my priest at one point at my church and informed there was a teacher who was someone that was exposed to some of the violent writings of the killers and said they were very troubled by it and troubled by the accusations they didn’t do anything about it and would I please meet them and offer them forgiveness. (Laughs). It was a rather awkward feeling.
Q – I take it you didn’t pursue it.
A – Well, I felt like I wasn’t given much of a choice. I felt like I couldn’t say No, but, it felt rather awkward. So, I just met them very briefly right there at the church. It was almost like being asked the question and then led over to them. It was a very brief conversation. They expressed their sympathy. It was a very awkward feeling.
Q – I’m sure throwing garbage at other students must have been against school rules.
A – Oh, certainly. I’m sure it was. I don’t think it was unusually higher at Columbine than it was at other schools from things I’ve heard from other kids. Through Daniel’s website I’ve heard from a number of kids who’ve written and talked about how they went through teasing, bullying and even being tormented because they were different.
Q – Was that said right after the Columbine shootings or as time passed?
A – In the years following, not immediately afterwards. I’ve received a number of messages from kids along those lines over the years.
Q – Has anyone ever identified the jocks who were tormenting Eric and Dylan?
A – No. I’ve never heard anything like that.
Q – Don’t you find that a little strange?
A – Yeah. I think there’s this collective feeling of Gee, maybe things went wrong, let’s move on. I think there’s that not wanting to point fingers kind of feeling out there. At some point as bad as it was for them, there has to be recognition that none of that bullying ever justified murder. It just doesn’t. There clearly was something else going on with those killers that led to what they did.
Q – Here we are 11 years past Columbine and I still don’t know why it happened. Initial reports were that Eric and Dylan were bullied. Then we have Brooks Brown saying you didn’t ever want to bully Eric and Dylan. Then Rachel Scott’s mother, Beth Nimmo, told me the killings had more to do with the religious issue of do you or do you not believe in Jesus? So, why did Columbine happen?
A – I’ve heard parts of that too. The killers certainly mocked people who were Christians. But, they mocked jocks. Anybody who they saw as a clique in their school. Anybody who was not with them they mocked. In the end, when it came down to it, they didn’t target those individual cliques for their killing. They meant to kill hundreds of kids. It was completely indiscriminate. They had total contempt for everybody.
Q – Why do you suppose that is?
A – I know it sounds simplistic, but to me clearly we were dealing with a sociopath in the case of Eric Harris.
Q – Don’t you also think that because no one interviewed on their behalf, that they say everyone in the school as bullies?
A – Yeah. Clearly. When they went through that library it was pretty indiscriminate. They shot and killed a Special Ed kid for God’s sake. How could they possibly think this was someone…..yet they looked down upon him? They had to have known who he was and yet they shot him. I think that’s a very sick mind that even looks at someone like that. They ridiculed the black kid. They ridiculed my son for being four eyes. I mean, c’mon, now. This is a reason for shooting someone? And yet, they spared other kids when they went through the library. They picked and chose who they shot. It wasn’t so much they were Christian or jocks. Yes, they may have called them out in some way, but, they shot others too.
Q – Two weeks before Columbine, your son asked you if you knew there were loopholes in the Brady Bill.
A – Right.
Q – You say he was shot with a gun that was purchased through one of those loopholes. It almost seems like some kind of omen that he would ask you that.
A – Oh, sure.
Q – And Rachel Scott’s diary.
A – There were a lot of signs like that. Amazing things. And, we will never understand it.
Q – One of the reasons you say contributed to Columbine was “the impersonality of a very large school”. Are you saying then that centralized schools contributed to the problem? Had the kids been going to a smaller school, Columbine might never have happened.
A – Yes. Definitely.
Q – Now, did you go to a centralized school or a small school?
A – I went to; I guess I would call it a medium size school. I think our graduating class was about 300.
Q – Your efforts to have stricter gun laws in place is perceived by the NRA (National Rifle Association) as a way to take their guns away from them?
A – Yes.
Q – What always seems to happen is, no matter what gun law is passed, the criminal never has a problem getting a gun. What can be done to get guns out of the hands of criminals?
A – I think for starters we have to require a background check for every purchase. Right now, in most states you can walk into a gun show where you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of guns on a table, on tables on display. If a criminal or a wife beater or a mentally deranged person walks in there, they’ll quickly find out they have to go through a background check if they were buying through a licensed dealer. IF they go to a table of someone who’s not a licensed dealer, so called private seller and they even have signs no background check here. No questions asked they can purchase there. When you make it that easy you’re really not being serious about keeping them away from the wrong people. They will argue they can buy it from a private individual, but, the question is, are we going to make it easy or are we going to make it hard for them to get guns? Right now, we make it very easy for them.
Q – How is it that kids can buy a gun off the street so easily? Where are these guns coming from? Who’s selling them?
A – I think ultimately if you really want to do it you need to have a system of registration. Right now when you purchase a gun the only record that’s kept of that purchase is at the gun shop. The police don’t have it. If that gun is then used in a crime and the police find it they have to go to the maker of the gun. They say here’s the serial number, who sold this gun? The ABC Gun Shop. Then the police have to go to the ABC Gun Shop and the gun shop says oh, we sold it to Bob Smith. You go to Bob Smith and he says, Oh, I sold it to somebody else. Well, that’s the end of the trail. That’s it. There is no further tracking. If you really want to get serious you have to hold people accountable for who they’re selling their weapons to. So, for the kid who’s buying it on the street, anybody will sell to him because they’re not held accountable for it. There’s really nothing stopping them from doing it because we have no system of record keeping at all.
Q – I always thought everything was computerized and manufacturers kept track of every gun they sold.
A – No. Some states do try things like that but, because they’re just individual states doing it, all you have to do is cross the border into another state. Unless you really have a national system, even when cities and states get tough on guns, it only takes a dent out of it, because you can cross boundaries so easily.
Q – So, it’s a Federal Law that you need passed.
A – Yes. That’s why I’m waiting for the last part of my book to close that gun show loophole at the national level, not just at the state level.
Q – Are you talking to lawmakers in Washington, D.C. about this?
A – Yep. I was just there 2 weeks ago ‘cause there was a House Sub-Committee on Crime that had a forum on a bill that would close the gun show loophole and I testified there. And, I was wearing Daniel’s shoes when I testified. I also made visits to congressmen from Colorado as well as from a couple other states. That’s the kind of thing it takes. It takes getting the issue out. We got some half decent publicity around that event. After closing the gun show loophole in Colorado, I didn’t really make a big effort to close it nationally. I was just plain burned out. It just took so much out of me to do what I did. I really had to step back from it. Now, there are people from the Virginia Tech tragedy who have been pushing to close this loophole and that has raised my enthusiasm again. It’s inspired me to join with them and showing there’s this joint effort between the victims of Columbine and Virginia Tech to close that loophole.
Q – Does a bill have to be introduced in the Senate?
A – Actually, a bill has been introduced in the Senate and then a companion bill has been introduced in the House. They’ve got a number of co-sponsors. They haven’t really got enough co-sponsors to move ahead sufficiently. They need more support before they can really push it. In an election year, (laughs), it’s tough.
Q –So 2011 would really be your best bet to get this bill passed.
A – Yeah. But, we still have to do a lot of the groundwork this year and really try to push some people. Expecting to get it heard this year, at this point will be too difficult, because it’s too controversial issues in an election year.
Q – Because the Gun Lobby is so powerful.
A – It’s probably the most powerful lobby in D.C.
Q – And any effort to get guns out of the hands of criminals is seen as a way to take guns away from law-abiding citizens, correct?
A – Sure. They will always say this hurts law-abiding citizens, but it doesn’t stop the criminal. But, that’s simply not true. When we closed the loophole in Colorado we made sure that criminals and wife beaters and mentally deranged people cannot buy a gun from a gun shop in Colorado. We made it harder for them. Did we make it impossible? No. Did we make it harder? Yes. We knew for example that teenagers are going to get a hold of alcohol and tobacco. We know that don’t we?
Q – We do.
A – But, even though we know that they will, do we allow them to do it? No. We say we have to have a deterrent. We have to do everything we reasonably can to make sure they don’t so they can’t go to a store and buy it. We do tell other people if we catch you supplying then you’re in trouble. So, even though we know many of them will get those things, we still make it as tough as we can. And, the same has to go for guns. The problem is, not very often do we hold accountable the people who supply these guns to kids and criminals, largely because we don’t have the good enough, strong enough laws to really enforce it.
Q – How many guns are being manufactured every year in the U.S? Who’s buying them? It would almost seem like it’s the same people buying one gun after another?
A – That’s a very good question. I don’t know how many are being made each year. I think it has been going down a bit, but, by most estimates we have, at least 200-250 million firearms in the country. There’s one for every person over the age of 18 easily.
Q – And more and more guns are being manufactured and sold to who?
A – Yeah and I think that’s part of the issue. What they’re trying to do is step it up in terms of the firepower of the weapons, in terms of making bullets that are more dangerous; of trying to convince women they should be armed. They’re now working on making it legal for college campuses to have guns. They’re trying to make it so you can have a concealed weapon at your place of work so the employers can’t prevent you from doing that. It’s all about trying to make them more accessible. The problem is: I feel it’s already been shown that that’s a failure. We are by far the most armed nation in the Free World and we also have by far the highest death rate.
Q – What if we could go back in time to April 20th 1999, and I know there was a police officer assigned to that school, but, what if a school teacher had a gun and when the firing broke out, was able to return fire? Would that teacher have been able to save lives?
A – We will never know. What I know is that the Resource Officer, the Police Officer was not in the school at the time and so we’re off to a bad start. He was on Lunch Break. If a teacher had been armed, for one thing I would expect that the teachers who would’ve been in that building would’ve been working to get kids out not looking for the killers. I think that was the first duty of the teachers to get the kids out. Then once they wouldn’t have let them back in the building because not even the police went in the building. If a teacher had been armed, would they have known who the killers were? Might they have shot an innocent student because they were running and looked like they had something like a gun or they were in a trench coat? We just don’t know. I think it’s a simplistic answer to think if teachers are armed…..and having armed teachers raises a whole other series of questions like how much training do you have to go through to be able to carry a weapon in a school? How do you train a teacher when it’s o.k. and not o.k. to shoot a student? If you’re a teacher, do you then become the first target of an armed student just because they’re afraid you might be armed? Do we have parents who will then say ‘I only want my child to be in classrooms with an armed teacher’, and then likewise parents say ‘I do not want my child, in a room with an armed teacher’. A whole series of questions are raised by having armed teachers.
Q – It was reported that there might have been a third gunman on the roof of Columbine. Did you ever hear anything about that?
A – Yeah. I heard that too. I believe it was an air-conditioning repairman.
Q – He didn’t have a gun did he?
A – No. And, that’s the whole point, when something like this happens all of a sudden everything gets blown out of proportion and heightened with fear. ‘There’s somebody up on the roof’. What if that’s the shooter who’s also going to shoot kids as they walk down the sidewalk? That’s the very problem that when you get into these situations rumours’ fly and that leads to more fear. Then you have the police afraid to go into the building ‘cause they were afraid there’s more shooters. Well, that gets worsened if you have people thinking there were more shooters. What evidence do you have of it? I thought I saw someone carrying a gun. Well, were they or weren’t they? That’s where preparations for tragedies like this are so important so people are taught to pay more attention and are more aware of their surroundings so you don’t have these false reports like this.
Q – What about all these bombs that were found placed all over the school? They couldn’t possibly have done that on the morning of the shootings, could they?
A – They did it that morning. They had two propane bombs and they had them in duffle bags. They simply brought them by car into the parking lot and they walked them into the cafeteria and set them down and walked away from them.
Q – Just two?
A – Of the propane bombs? No. The rest of the bombs were smaller, but, the larger bombs there were two of them.
Q – And they were 40-60 pounds?
A – Well, they were like 20 pound propane canisters, the kind that people have in their outside grills.
Q – I would’ve thought they had help.
A – No. There’s no evidence that they had any help. They acted alone.
Q – So, you spend your time going around lecturing about Columbine?
A – No, not really. I have a regular job that I have to attend to and one that occupies a lot of my time. I certainly have done some Gun Control speeches. The one that really stands out is I went to a school in Massachusetts in 2004 and spoke to a large group of students, at risk students about what happened at Columbine and the role they can play in prevention that’s so, so important. I tell you, I wish I could do more of that. Again, I have a regular job and people would be too afraid to have me come in and speak about the prevention issue because I’m a Gun Control advocate. Don’t want to upset people. Sounds like you’re getting political.
Q – Each year around the time of the Columbine tragedy we hear about other school shooting plans that have been prevented from happening. Are you confident that Columbine will never happen again or will there one day be a copy-cat crime like Columbine?
A – It already has been repeated. Virginia Tech. Santee, California. Redlake, Minnesota. There have been other shootings. There also have been quite a number that have been stopped. I think that’s the positive sign, that we have seen them foiled. I think it was especially because of Columbine that there was more education about the need to look for these signals and identify these kids. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been stopped because people let their guard down. They think just like the people here. It couldn’t happen in our community. Well, they get proved wrong.
Q – Are you able to sit down and watch a t.v. comedy and laugh? Are you able to go to the movies and enjoy a movie? Or, is that all part of the past for you?
A – Well, no. I have refused to let that happen to me. I have to return to some sense of normalcy despite the tragedy. For the sake of my family and for the sake of showing that those two killers were not going to ruin our lives, but mostly because Daniel wouldn’t want it to be that way. I have to say to myself would Daniel want me to be in perpetual grief? No. He would not. So, why should I let that happen to myself? I can’t. I do want to add one thing. As much as I focus on Gun Control, the Columbine issue is really so much also about the level of violence in this country. You cannot separate them. We have such a high level of violence. Yet, it’s gun violence usually, but, it’s still violence. It should not be a surprise that it’s in our schools the way it is because it’s in our streets. Until we start getting a handle on the overall level of violence, I don’t think you can realistically expect we’re going to see a significant decline among our young people.
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