ED 2272 | Urban Education | Doris Santoro | Spring 2018 

Overview of Gun Violence and Activism

While no description can adequately capture the tragedy of violence in schools,  this website aims to shed light on the problem and activism for safer schools.

Home to the people affected, grieving, and forced into activism by the Columbine massacre, Denver provides a unique look into how gun violence has impacted schools, families, and nation at large. As a Colorado native with family attending Columbine during the massacre, I was drawn to study the issue as well as the ensuing hope and hard work to make schools safer.

The American Psychological Association determined that statistically, mass shootings most often occur in suburban white communities by perpetrators that are middle class white men who obtained guns legally (Johnston 2016). At Columbine High School in Colorado, thirteen innocent people were murdered and countless others impacted by injury and emotional trauma. It was the deadliest school shooting at that point in US history, recently eclipsed this year on Valentine’s Day when seventeen lives were lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 

These two were significant both in their size and the ensuing activism and media attention to gun violence in schools. News of Columbine spread throughout the nation and spurred political action on gun legislation. Following the Parkland massacre, a group of high school survivors  became organizers of the March for Our Lives campaign, a grassroots movement that focuses on education and political engagement. Though this is one of many organizations that have sprouted up in the wake of tragedy, its scale has surpassed that of any previous movements. Unfortunately, the number of school shootings has continued to grow, but so has the number of grassroots organizations across the nation fighting to keep kids safe.

Colorado Law. 24-80-906. Duty to protect. 
“It is hereby declared to be the duty of all citizens of this state to protect the white and lavender Columbine Aquilegia, Caerulea, the state flower, from needless destruction or waste.”

The aquilegia caerulea is a species of buttercup native to the Rocky Mountains, especially prevalent in Colorado. The Latin word caerulea translates to sky blue—a fitting descriptor of the velvety flower. Nicknamed the “Colorado Blue Columbine” or “Rock Mountain Columbine,” it garnered the overwhelming majority in the 1891 vote by school children to determine the Colorado state flower (Shearer 2002). Of the 22,316 ballots, 14,472 were in favor of the Columbine becoming the state flower. In 1925, the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation making it the duty of the citizens to protect the Columbine, to keep it from “needless destruction or waste” (Senate Bill 261). It is not to be yanked from public or private lands, nor have its roots disturbed by greedy hands. It is to remain whole with its roots, unmarred and safe from harm.


Forty-nine years later, its blue and silver school colors ablaze, Columbine High School was opened. Serving the community about twenty minutes from the heart of Denver, the school was ripe with sports teams, drama programs, and classes buzzing with students. Years later, two students armed with multiple weapons and guns, including a semi-automatic weapon, caused the worst school shooting at that point in history. This event was splattered across papers across the country and world, sparking activism on gun violence and school security.


            As I write this, the TV shows a news anchor rattling off the four shootings in Denver in the past 24 hours. Forty seconds later, an anchor with bright red lipstick says the next story is that 28 skunks in Denver tested positive for rabies. Apparently Denver Animal Protection is giving out free vaccines to pets. “I don’t want anyone to get sick and get put down,” says a little girl in a pink top holding her dog.

When did our culture become so desensitized to gun violence that 40 seconds became enough to cover tragedy? To cover four tragedies? The commonplace nature of gun violence and the efforts of the powerful gun lobby numbed the minds of the public, legislators too, and crafted masterful protection of guns.

They have now been used countless times across the nation at elementary schools and high schools, causing tragedy and outrage. It is a community problem that is made complex by political, economic, and moral issues. Grassroots and astroturf organization have sprung up around the nation working towards goals they feel best serve their community.