Father of Columbine victim to speak in Dillon next Sunday
Every time Tom Mauser speaks, he laces up his grey and white Vans, size 10 ½ exactly. The shoes originally belonged to Mauser’s son, Daniel, who was fatally shot 16 years ago at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Mauser has continued to speak ever since the year of the incident, and will be at Lord of the Mountains Church next Sunday, April 26, to discuss Colorado gun laws.
Before every speech, Mauser looks over his notes, makes a few changes and remembers Daniel, a soft-spoken sophomore who ran cross-country and participated in debate in high school.
“I try to honor him in everything I do,” Mauser said. “If he can stand in front of an audience, so can I.”
Mauser started wearing his son’s shoes after he found them, by chance, looking through his closet.
“It was finding the shoes in his closet, and not knowing we were the same shoe size. And suddenly the symbolism hit me — I’m now on the debate team standing in his place,” Mauser said.
Mauser remembers his first speech — it was just 11 days after the Columbine attack, at a protest outside of the National Rifle Association’s national convention. Without ever having intended to speak, Mauser carried a sign that read, “My son Daniel died at Columbine. He’d expect me to be here today.” He had also printed off 400 copies of a statement, only to realize there weren’t enough when he saw the thousands of people in attendance.
“It was pretty unnerving. On one hand I follow current events a lot, but when you’re grieving and just in that shock, even 15 years later it’s still difficult to talk about it,” Mauser said. “I still get choked up, like I did this morning.”
Since then, Mauser has worked to address Colorado gun laws, including petitioning for the state to close a loophole that allowed people to purchase firearms from private sellers at gun shows without a background check. Three of the guns used by the Columbine attackers were obtained legally in this way.
“When the legislature wouldn’t close that loophole, we put it on the ballot. We had petitions signed, with 110,000 signatures,” Mauser said.
His efforts were a success — Amendment 22 made it on the state ballot in 2000, passing with an overwhelming 70 percent vote.
This Sunday, Mauser plans to discuss Colorado gun laws; in particular, an expansion on background checks and limits to ammunition magazines that were signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013. The speech, organized through Colorado State Communities United Against Gun Violence, will be held at Lord of the Mountains church at 10:30 a.m.
Diane Luellen, part of the Lord of the Mountains Task Force to Reduce Gun Violence that was formed last year, said they were looking to create awareness of the problem of gun violence nationwide.
“We’re just a group of people that is looking for a way to make a difference, and to do something so we can find answers to why there is so much gun violence in our world, and what we can do about it,” Luellen said.
The Colorado Department of Health reported a 15 percent increase in gun-related deaths from 2011 to 2012, shortly after firearms led to more deaths than motor vehicles statewide. While gun ownership nationwide is declining, the United States still leads the world in gun ownership, with 88.8 guns for every 100 people, according to a 2007 Small Arms Survey. At the time, the U.S. ranked fifth for total homicides by gun, just behind Brazil, Columbia, Mexico and Venezuela.
“I would say that the conversation has changed a bit, but the public policy hasn’t changed too much. I think we’re still struggling with what to do,” Mauser said. “This is isn’t about taking guns away, this is about keeping guns away from people who are dangerous.”
In his spare time, Mauser continues his efforts by speaking and serving on the board of directors for gun control group Colorado Ceasefire. Despite his willingness to step into the public arena, he plans to spend Monday quietly, in memory of his son.
“For us, we just lay low. We walk to the cemetery, put down flowers, and don’t do much of anything else,” Mauser said. “We just comfort each other.”
But he encourages others to remember, and hear the stories of the victims, 12 kids and one teacher, who died 16 years ago.
“They were all good kids. They didn’t deserve that. We’ve got to do more to protect them,” Mauser said. “Read about one of the victims. That’s how you keep them alive — that way.”
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