Patrick Neville was a sophomore at Columbine High School when two peers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, murdered 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.
Neville is now a Republican Representative from Castle Rock. On Monday, 16 years after surviving one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, he will defend a bill to allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to bring a firearm to school.
“I remember fathers coming up to me whose sons I knew well, asking where they were,” said Neville. “People I’d known since elementary school are no longer with us today. I think some of the staff who were heroic in so many ways that day, if they’d had the ability to equip themselves, some of my friends might still be with us.”
Neville said the trauma of the Columbine shooting not only motivated this bill but changed how he thought about life in general.
“To be totally honest with you, I wasn’t the best kid when I was 15,” said Neville. “It put me on a path to want to serve a purpose in life. It’s why I joined the Army, and it’s a big piece of why I’m doing what I do now.”
Neville is a sponsor of not one but six gun bills, including a measure to allow anyone over 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
Sandy Hook sister
For Jane Dougherty, whose sister, a teacher, was murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, experiencing loss due to gun violence has had an equally powerful – though opposite – effect. She is now among the best known citizen advocates of gun control in Colorado. Dougherty plans to testify against Neville’s proposal, as she has for virtually every pro-gun bill in Colorado since her sister’s death,
“The last thing in the world my sister would have wanted would be to protect her school with a gun. That’s not her job. That’s not what she went into child psychology to do,” said Dougherty.
“It’s a fantasy that the Nevilles and other gun extremists believe that a teacher like my sister would be able to respond to a shooting in some Hollywood heroic fashion, that she would have been able to … come blasting around a blind corner and take out a shooter. It’s a fantasy.”
Robert Duensing, who teaches U.S. Government at Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, agrees with Dougherty. He doesn’t think carrying a gun in the classroom would make the school safer. Nor do 80 percent of teachers polled by the Colorado Education Association in 2013.
“We have too many distractions as it is,” said Duensing. “To add to that the responsibility of securing a firearm leaves me fearing for my child in school, should teachers have guns.”
Neville said that he knows many teachers who disagree. He also pointed out that virtually every mass shooting in recent history has occurred in “gun-free” zones where nobody, or only security staff, is permitted to carry a firearm.
“We’ve tried it the other way for years now, and these mass shootings just keep happening,” said Neville. “Shooters are not deterred by a flashy sign on the door.”
A student perspective
“I can see where the argument is coming from, but I feel like if we carry those guns around and instill that fear in everyone, how different are we from the criminals who carry guns?” said Denver East High School junior Josie Brady, about Neville’s argument that guns deter crime.
Brady sometimes thinks about the possibility of a school shooting and feels afraid. But going to school knowing that the adults around her are allowed to carry concealed guns would feels scarier.
“I would not feel safe at all,” she said. “I would not even want to go to school anymore.”
Jane Dougherty, left, holds an image of her sister Mary.