Columbine Shooting: 19 Years Ago Felt Like A Galvanizing Moment For Gun Control The weeks after the Columbine High School's deadly shooting saw waves of activism from students and parents concerned about gun access.

In 1999, Columbine Felt Like A Galvanizing Moment For Gun Control

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February, students and victims have organized walkouts, marched on Washington and are demanding stricter gun laws. Some say it feels like a watershed moment, but 19 years ago today, another school shooting spurred protests and demands for change as well. Colorado Public Radio's Michael Elizabeth Sakas reports.

MICHAEL ELIZABETH SAKAS, BYLINE: It's May of 1999 just days after the Columbine High School massacre. Tom Mauser is speaking to protesters in Denver at a rally against the National Rifle Association. He holds a sign that says, my son Daniel died at Columbine.

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TOM MAUSER: Something is wrong in this country when a child can grab a gun so easily and shoot a bullet into the middle of a child's face.

SAKAS: The NRA's annual convention was scheduled to be in Denver, and after the shooting, Mayor Wellington Webb and others urged the group not to come. The NRA shortened the event from three days to one, and still thousands protested. Nineteen years later, Tom Mauser's still fighting. Just last month, he spoke at the March For Our Lives rally in Denver.

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MAUSER: It's time for a real change. And it's time for you to make clear to politicians that if they have an A rating from the NRA, they get an F and a no vote from you.

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SAKAS: In 2000, Mauser closed a loophole in state law that let people buy guns at gun shows without a background check. Beyond that, Mauser says too little has changed, but maybe now there's hope.

MAUSER: I think you have the kids today saying, these are things we read about in a history book, and they're still happening. Why is this still happening? We have to change this.

SAKAS: But some kids in 1999 wanted change, too. Ben Gelt was a senior at a Denver high school then. When he found out the NRA would be in town, he got kids to join the protests without social media.

BEN GELT: We got flyers, and we ditched school and drove around the metro area. Like, there were a bunch of us. And we drove around and just leafletted high schools.

SAKAS: A few months later, he and a friend, David Winkler, went with a hundred students to Washington to meet with President Clinton. Winkler spoke on national television from the White House.

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DAVID WINKLER: Young people here are concerned about gun violence in America. And we will make our voices heard.

SAKAS: Gelt thinks the activism after Parkland feels larger and louder, but he says the students are fighting the same battles.

GELT: That's part of what's so depressing about it. And I think frankly that's part of why people want it to be different. But not much has changed.

SAKAS: Some Columbine survivors like Patrick Neville have been pushing for a different kind of change. Neville is now Colorado's House Republican minority leader. Four times he's sponsored a bill allowing teachers in the state the right to carry guns, and four times it's failed. But he says he feels the idea is gaining support. After Parkland, he met with President Trump.

PATRICK NEVILLE: It's getting a lot of people talking about it in an open way.

SAKAS: Today's Columbine students weren't alive when the attack happened. But 16-year-old Kaylee Tyner grew up in the mass shooting's shadow, practicing active shooter drills and lockdowns. She's now working with students in Parkland to get young people to vote for tougher gun laws.

KAYLEE TYNER: What needs to be done is actual legislation that is going to prevent, not prepare us for them to happen.

SAKAS: On the back of her jean jacket painted in white are words from the Columbine memorial. It brought the nation to its knees. But now that we've gotten back up, how have things changed? What have we learned? It's a question that people on all sides of the gun issue are still asking. For NPR News, I'm Michael Elizabeth Sakas in Denver.

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