Opinion Pieces

20 years after Columbine: What has changed?

As originally posted by The Hill  on April 20, 2019.

We do know we have to do more to recognize the early warning signs that are sent before children act violently.”

- President Bill Clinton, April 20, 1999

Twenty years later and guess what – we aren’t.  How is it possible that we still aren’t doing enough to identify those who are moving along the pathway toward committing an act of violence?  I have a suspicion it’s because, once again, politics has done far more to exacerbate this problem than it has to address it. Every single time one of these horrific attacks occurs (which we all agree is far too often), the political rhetoric stops substantive conversation in its place. On the left, there are those who want to abolish our Constitutionally-given right to bear arms. On the right, some want to arm teachers and harden schools. The problem is – neither truly address the crisis at hand.


Let’s not forget that there were nearly 80 improvised explosive devices found at Columbine in the immediate aftermath of the attack. This includes two 20-pound propane bombs that, had the alarm clock manufacturer not changed certain components from metal to plastic, the Sheriff’s Report estimates nearly all 488 students in the school cafeteriawould have been killed or wounded by the subsequent explosion. Not to mention weaponized vehicles, stabbings, and many other instruments of violence.

What about physical hardening?  It is my opinion, and that of many experts, that physical hardening shouldn’t be considered the end-all solution. Millions of dollars are spent annually turning our schools into fortresses, and for what…so these attacks can move to our churches, movie theaters, and shopping centers? No matter how impenetrable we make a location, there will always be a place for violence (read: Fort Lauderdale International Airport, the Washington Navy Yard, and others). I am not arguing that our schools should not be safe havens for our kids, but folks the problem is bigger than the instrument or location of an attack. We must recognize and manage those with the intent and capability to carry out harm.

Luckily, there is a process out there that does this. The process is called Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management (BTAM) – and it works. Created by the U.S. Secret Service, and implemented across the Federal government, BTAM seeks to identify when individuals who make a threat actually pose a threat to themselves or others and deescalate them off the pathway to violence.

I have introduced legislation in the House of Representatives, the Threat Assessment, Prevention, and Safety (TAPS) Act – H.R. 838, that seeks to make this scalable process available to state, local, and private entities who want to use this scientifically-validated method to protect their increasingly vulnerable local communities. Endorsed by more than 40 organizations, and with equal bipartisan support, Congress is uniquely situated to work together, as intended, to do something right now that will make a difference. 

Twenty years later – my thoughts and prayers still go out to the victims, survivors, families, and community surrounding Columbine High School – but I also offer more than that. I dedicate the TAPS Act both to you and the many others affected by this senseless violence, as a solution to preventing these atrocities from ever occurring again in the future.

Babin represents the 36th District of Texas.