On Columbine anniversary, survivor says gun bill fight isn’t over yet

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

Katie Lyles was a sophomore at Columbine High School when her math class was interrupted by the sound of gunfire on April 20, 1999.

She fled the class, and survived. But by the end of the day, she would find out that her lab partner from science class and one of her teachers were among the 13 people killed by a pair of seniors who went on a shooting rampage that day.

Fourteen years later, Lyles, now an art teacher at an elementary school in the same Colorado community, decided to become an advocate for expanded background checks and other gun safety measures after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 14. In the aftermath of that tragedy, Lyles became alarmed when some gun rights enthusiasts suggested that teachers or volunteers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons into school to prevent the next shooting.

With the help of her teachers' union, the National Education Association, Lyles has lobbied lawmakers and shared her personal experience as a Columbine survivor and teacher to try to get new gun laws passed. She testified in front of the Colorado statehouse for stricter background checks and limits to high-capacity magazines, which eventually passed and were signed into law in March.

But her advocacy on the national level was not so successful. On Wednesday, senators refused to bring a background check bill to a vote, dealing a significant blow to President Barack Obama's stated goal of passing what he calls commonsense gun reforms. The Senate came five votes short of clearing the procedural hurdle that would have allowed lawmakers to actually debate the bill.

The failure came despite a compromise between Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) that scaled back an earlier Democratic proposal to require background checks for nearly every single gun transaction, including those among friends and relatives. The Manchin-Toomey compromise would have covered just commercial transactions, including online and gun show sales, to ensure people with criminal records can't buy weapons. The National Rifle Association opposed the background check compromise, saying it would not "reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools."

Lyles said she is disappointed the bill failed, but will continue to fight for the legislation.

"This isn’t the end of the fight, this is the first inning of a nine inning game," Lyles said.