By Jake Intrater:
After a few days of travel and quick stops through the heartlands of America, it was refreshing to go down to breakfast in the morning without having to load up the bus with our bags in preparation for more hours on the now all-too-familiar bus.
Our first meeting of the day was with Tom Mauser, the father of Daniel Mauser, one of the victims of the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Tom has become the spokesperson for Colorado Ceasefire and a prominent figure in the gun control advocacy movement. He was not a physically imposing man, nor did he have a booming voice like Reverend Williams, yet he spoke with a quiet power borne from the senseless tragedy and loss he had experienced. Hearing how he had become an advocate for gun control almost accidentally when he came to a rally and was told he was the only Columbine parent there reminded me of the famous William Shakespeare quote, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Tom Mauser certainly never thought he would spend his life fighting the good fight; rather, it was thrust upon him, for as his famous poster read, “My Son, Daniel, would want me to be here [protesting, picketing etc.]” Mr. Mauser told us the story of Columbine, he told us what the two shooters did and where they did it, and he told us about his son’s death—a tale he surely has heard and told far too many times. It was clearly difficult for him; a few times it seemed as if his words were physically lodged in his throat, but he persevered. I, along with many other members of the group, found myself tearing up unashamedly. The one point in his story that I will certainly not soon forget was when he told us how, after his son’s death, he realized that Daniel had grown into the same shoe size as him, and how he was, as he talked to us, wearing the same shoes that his son was wearing on the day of his death.
As we sat under a gazebo next to a children’s park, it began to rain and a number of families took shelter with us. It became increasingly difficult to hear him speak and yet that just led to us all clinging to his every word. What I had the upmost respect for was his perspective on the issue. He acknowledged that the US would never have gun regulations as strict as Japan or Australia—he was legitimately arguing for reasonable restrictions. Rather than straw man the other side’s arguments or belittle them, he responded to them in a logical, calm fashion. It was this perspective that I’m sure led to his success in closing the gun show loophole and ensuring background checks on all transactions of firearms in Colorado.
After speaking to Mr. Mauser we went to the Columbine memorial, where a tribute to all the victims was written. Once again, I found myself crying when I read a quote from one anonymous student: “A kid my age isn’t supposed to go to that many funerals”
After lunch at a local salad bar we met Jim Pfaff, who is a former representative of socially conservative political action group Focus on the Family. He presented two opinions to us: firstly, that there should not be marriage equality, and secondly, that climate change was not caused by humans and therefore should not be addressed by the government. He certainly was a very passionate speaker—I don’t think anyone could deny him that. In regards to marriage equality, he had two major points. He thinks that it should not have been the Supreme Court’s decision to ‘impose’ marriage equality; rather, the onus should be on Congress, if the federal government at all. On this point I agreed with him somewhat. Like him, I found it morally hazardous that nine individuals who are clearly politically and socially influenced decide the entire law and that with a different president, and therefore different presidential appointees, our laws could change so easily. I found his second point far more troublesome. He argued that since marriage laws exist simply to provide benefits for child bearing, only straight couples, who are more likely and more ‘fit’ to raise successful children, should get married. What I found most troubling in his opinion is that he completely rejected the notion of equality in marriage and that he refused to acknowledge that marriage as a social construct is a recognition of love.
On the topic of climate change his argument was quite simple: he didn’t find the science to be convincing enough. What he didn’t explain was why we should take his word for it and not the majority of climate scientists. He did make a valid point in that government restrictions should not be arbitrary or unfair, but I think that these regulations must be analyzed through the lens of climate change being anthropogenic.
While Mr. Pfaff was certainly an engaging speaker and I welcomed his challenge that we must back up our points, I think the same arguments could be used against him. In a very heated discussion with David, particularly, I noticed that the bias he was accusing David of was dripping from his every word, and perhaps rightfully so. I personally relished the opportunity to engage with someone whose beliefs were so radically different than mine, and he certainly questioned some assumptions I had—not about whether or not there should be marriage equality, but on the objectivity of the Supreme Court.
After our meeting with Mr. Pfaff, we drove to the aptly named ‘Garden of the Gods’. From our perch on one of the rock formations, we could see all across the Colorado Rockies and the suburbs of metropolitan Denver. It was in this beautiful location that we reflected upon the day.
Dinner was make-your-own pizza at a delightfully hip restaurant in a strip mall in Colorado Springs. Then we went and played mini golf into the night. The day was certainly an engaging one mentally—a welcome break from the long hours on the bus and a fun introduction to the now more urban portion of our trip.