When the shooting at Columbine happened, I was living in Galway, Ireland in an apartment that I shared with two German students and two American students.
I came home from class and found my German roommates standing uncharacteristically close to the television, watching the news. They turned to me as I entered our shared kitchen. On their faces they wore expressions I will never forget. It wasn't anguish. It was complete bewilderment.
It took them finding words, me watching part of the news, and a few minutes for me to come to understand what had taken place in Colorado. But it took their questions and their fumbling for me to start to contemplate this from a different perspective.
My shock as Columbine unfolded was connected to the horror and tragedy. To the suffering, and the lives lost, and the aftermath for each family.
Their bewilderment was different.
Soren asked me: Is this true?
Was what true?
Is it possible? he asked.
This. How could one person have so many weapons? How could this boy get a gun, or multiple guns?
Anybody can get a gun, I remember saying.
There was this blank silence.
But how is this so? Kristina asked.
How is this so?
I had never contemplated gun laws before this conversation.
But I started paying attention to some questions and began to understand Soren and Kristina's complete confusion. They could not even register the tragedy immediately because their minds could not get past the how is this even possible?
I had no problem understanding the how. Guns, weapons, are not hard to come by.
After Columbine, I continued to talk with my German flatmates about crime in their country. I started noticing the nature of violent crime within Ireland.
During that period in Ireland, it wasn't that there were no violent crimes. There were many during my 8 months there. Stabbings. Muggings. Beatings. The reaction within the community and splashed across the newspaper was the same as the reaction we have in the US when a crime is committed: pain, grief, questioning.
It's also not that Americans are a more violent brand of humans.
We simply have unprecedented access to a means which causes excessive harm in a short period of time.
This is an awful point, but here it is: it takes far longer kill 3 people without an automatic weapon than it does to shoot 20, or 30 with one.
The beatings and stabbings in Ireland seemed to line up with Soren's explanation of violent crime in Germany. They are horrific. But intervention can happen more quickly because of the nature of the crime.
We have come to exist with such ease of acquiring weapons that it does not touch the national consciousness until something like this occurs.
It keeps occurring.
We can question the young man and whatever illness plagued his mind.
We can look at how to make a school better protected, with metal detectors.
Or we can ask: why is a constitutional right that was written in 1791 still upheld in 2012?
The Right to Bear Arms was inked at a time when it made sense.
Does it still make sense today?
Does it fit?
Do we need to have such access to automatic weapons to protect ourselves?
This amendment was adopted on December 15. 221 years ago.
Two hundred and twenty-one years ago.
The right to bear arms was written during a time when "arms" were single-shot weapons. Before the existence of high velocity clips and semi-automatic rifles. The technology of our weapons has far exceeded the original "arms."
We are being called---yet again---to explore this right, and who exactly it is protecting.