In 2009, Dave Cullen won five of the top US literature awards with his book "Columbine" in which he talks about the causes and consequences of school shooting that became the most remarkable in history Of your country. This week he came to Brazil for the release of the Portuguese version of his work.
In an interview with R7, the American talked about the reasons that led to the tragedy that killed 15 people in Littleton, Colorado, in April 1999 to have such a profound cultural impact across the planet and left an appeal to Brazilians, as regards access to weapons: "don't want to be like the US".
Why was Columbine so remarkable in US history?
The fact that it wasn't the first school shootout was part of why it became so big. By contrast, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing killed more people (168 people), but did not have the same lasting effect. We had never had a terrorist attack, so it seemed the exception. It was a horrible thing, but it didn't feel like 'wow, this will keep happening'.
Before Columbine, as there were a number of other minor shootings, with one or two people being killed, it always seemed that there was a pattern, something that was seething, that made people uneasy, wondering if it was a trend, so came Columbine and surpassed everything. Instead of a few people, they killed 15, but tried to kill hundreds with bombs and everything. It went wrong, but it suddenly became a complete horror show, without limits.
How does the Columbine massacre relate to later shootings?
I've done a spreadsheet with over 30 school shootings in the US over the last 20 years. Some shooters cite perpetrators of previous shootings in their diaries and manifestos, and all refer to Columbine directly.
All roads lead to Columbine. These people learned by watching the previous shootings. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are the patrons of this movement. And the sad thing is that it's not just in the US, it happens abroad, in Brazil it has happened, even in Russia, in a village in Siberia. And they believe the wrong story, a Columbine myth, but they try to imitate the killers anyway.
Why were shootouts like Columbine's and Parkland's different from others and caused so much trauma?
One important thing is that, after Columbine, the cops are following a different protocol, the shooters have 10-15 minutes to act and they know it. So in other shootings, when these things hit television they are already in the past, the verbs are in the past tense.
I talked to psychiatrists about brain chemistry and it's all about the neropinephrine that your brain amygdala lets loose in the body, which is basically adrenaline. It causes most trauma, including watching TV.
It's different when you learn something that happened in the past. I mean, you turn on the TV and there was a shooting, or a bombing or something horrible, but it's over. You feel sadness, maybe horror, but you don't feel fear or anxiety. When something is happening, like a hostage kidnapping, a city is surrounded or something.
September 11 was similar. One plane hits one building, then another plane hits the other, then the Pentagon … You wonder if there are more planes in the middle, all over the country. Will they hit Kansas, or Chicago? There is a different kind of terror in this.
Parkland was the first time, after 19 years, to have taken hours to finish, because the person who attacked the school left unseen and the police siege took hours. This has a different effect on the audience, you wonder how and when it will all end, you don't know how many people are still going to die, everything is present and uncertain.
At Columbine, we thought it all took about four, because the killers were dead, but no one knew. The school shook, everyone thought they were sniper bombs, but it was SWAT, knocking the doors open. And the country seeing it all on a national network, it all caused such a trauma. It was the first time many parents had thought, 'Can I send my son to school tomorrow?'
How do you see the protective culture that many Americans have adopted?
This is ridiculous. At Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, after the shooting, they gave students transparent backpacks and they treated it like a joke, put on tampons, condoms, ridiculous things. Will this solve anything? Now has bulletproof backpacks, some parents talk about making bulletproof walls, but you can't make someone's life bulletproof.
Is there a group of parents who want measures that harden the school, put metal detectors on, then raise other questions, such as when they are arriving at school, getting off the buses? Or on Friday nights, when you have football games, how are you going to protect everyone in a stadium?
Shall we all be the boys in the bubble? Eventually you need to get out of the bubble, what if a shooter decides to hit you right now? You can't do things like that.
What do you suggest?
Instead of doing everything bulletproof, why not limit the bullets? Ban assault rifles, for example. Or not sell more cartridges for 100 bullets. The moment of greatest sniper vulnerability is when he reloads the weapon. That's when he can be attacked. If it has a smaller cartridge, it has to reload more often.
We sell 100 bullet shells, that's ridiculous. You can kill a lot of people with 100 bullets. Especially if you have another gun on your shoulder. You trade and automatically have 200 bullets to shoot without having to trade. No one needs a 100-bullet cartridge unless you're in a war.
I served in the Army, went from infantry for two years and we had 30 bullet shells. I was never in combat, it was before the Gulf War, our adversary was only imaginary, we never actually faced the Russians, but still: 30 bullets. Neither soldiers use 100 bullets at a time.
Does anyone need a semi-automatic weapon?
Not! And I usually say that, because they use the hunter argument as justification, I say, "If you need 30 bullets to hunt a deer, you need a new hobby, go fishing, go do something else." So nobody uses these things to hunt. It's a man thing, a macho thing, to have a collection of it.
Hunting is already a weak argument for having weapons released, but collecting? Can children die for you to have a gun in your collection at home? It's the stupidest thing in the world. People think of their rights as collectors, but what about children's right to live?
And the worst, statistically, the person most likely to die if you have a gun at home is yourself. And your family. People say "I need a gun to protect my family," but the numbers show that the chances of your wife and children dying quadruple if you have a gun at home.
Or you don't keep it right and your little child finds and shoots someone or himself. Or if a burglar comes in and demands your money, you try to point the gun at him and get shot first. And, worst of all, is the increase in the number of suicides. It is the leading cause of gun deaths in the US.
And when the argument is "guns don't kill people, people kill people"?
No one should have guns, they only serve to kill. That phrase "guns don't kill people, people kill people", I think it's already old in the US. Donald Trump said that a few weeks ago and no one cared, I realized it was the first time I heard that in a long time.
For many years this was the rallying cry of the National Rifle Owners Association (NRA) and now they don't even use it anymore. I think after so many mass murders, people no longer want to hear that phrase.
Even Trump supporters are saying this in group polls that something needs to be done. Not necessarily ban guns, they say, but something. The NRA summit and politicians have lost touch with them, their ideas are out of date.
Do you think the background check being proposed would work?
I think it works to some degree, but it's just a first step, it's the most obvious and the smallest thing. We have to go far beyond that, checking would be just the beginning. Banning semi-automatic weapons would help a lot more, of course.
Laws that created warnings for the police help a lot, they have already avoided some serious problems. What's more, the gun control groups are growing, the "All for Arms Control" movement today has more volunteers than NRA membership. Things are changing.
Democrat Beto O'Rourke said he would remove the rifles from circulation …
And that is a giant step. No politician has dared to say such a thing in years. I don't think he would go that far, but that shows that the discussion has come too far in recent years. A year ago this would not even be discussed. Today people in surveys find this necessary.
I think if the Democrats win, automatic weapons will be banned. Last time they were naive, listed the banned models and the manufacturers circumvented it. This time, I think they will be smarter and list the features of the products and ban them.
Their campaign is based on that, I think they'll kind of be forced to do that. Almost all Democrats are in favor of this and many Republicans …
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