Tom Mauser, whose son was killed at Columbine, about guns at Starbucks, on campus

As we noted earlier, today is the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which MSNBC is marking with a documentary featuring recordings of Timothy McVeigh telling people, "Get over it."

But an anniversary tomorrow strikes even closer to home for Tom Mauser. It was eleven years ago that his son, Daniel, was murdered at Columbine High School.

Today, Mauser is a board member and spokesman for Colorado Ceasefire, whose goals include reducing gun violence and lobbying for stronger gun laws. So why did he spend part of his weekend picketing outside a Starbucks store? He explains below -- and also offers his take on movements to allow guns on the campuses of CU and CSU.

According to Mauser, Colorado Ceasefire is only targeting Starbucks stores because what he calls "gun extremists" did it first.

"In California, especially, they've had gatherings in Starbucks stores openly carrying handguns, right on their hip," he notes. "Essentially, they're challenging Starbucks to accept that behavior. They're saying, 'You're a gathering place, and we're going to gather -- and we're going to have open-carry weapons.' And that's not necessary. I think most people would be pretty uncomfortable if they went into a Starbucks and saw people openly displaying guns."

While Mauser may not like open-carry laws like those on the books in both Colorado and California, he says, "There's not much you can do about them," he says. But he believes there's a new push on the part of gun advocates to flaunt their weaponry and they're using Starbucks to do it.

Although Mauser's tried to speak with supervisors at Starbucks about this issue, he's hit a series of roadblocks.

"I haven't heard anything from them," he says. "I'd sent them a couple of e-mails, and basically all I got was a standard, generic response. So I sent another e-mail to the regional director in Denver and heard back on Friday night. But it really didn't say anything different than the one they'd sent before, which is basically, 'Please don't put us in the middle of this debate.'"

In Mauser's view, Starbucks is already in that position whether execs like it or not -- and he believes they can respond in a more positive way than they've done thus far. "Just because Colorado has an open-carry law doesn't mean Starbucks can't say, 'We don't welcome open-carry in our stores.' They have a choice whether to accept open carry or not.

"They've said the proper place to take this is the legislature, but we're not trying to overturn open-carry. It's just a question of whether they're going to allow it in their stores. And I think what they're really saying is, 'We don't want our employees to have to tell someone who's holding a gun to please leave.'"

More and more business owners may be put in this position. Mauser points out that Second Amendment activists are rallying in Washington, D.C. and Virginia today, and he expects firearms will be prominent. "They're trying to signal that this is acceptable behavior. They want to flex their muscles, which is why I think if they're showing up at Starbucks in California, they'll start doing it here, too."

In the meantime, Mauser is working to close a legal loophole regarding background checks at gun shows. Full-page ads in tomorrow's Denver Post and Boulder Daily Camera find him urging Senator Mark Udall to join his senate colleague, Michael Bennet, in backing such legislation; see the text below. And he's also got strong views about attempts to allow guns at CU, and to fight attempts to ban them at CSU.

"A campus is a very unique setting," he says. "It's unlike most other settings in terms of being a defined area with people there for a common purpose. What it's most like is a military base, and guess what: We don't allow concealed carry or open carry on military bases. If you're in training, you can have a weapon, but in normal day-to-day activities on the base, it's not allowed. Obviously, the military must have come to the realization that in that setting, it's not good to have people carrying weapons around -- and the same is true on a college campus."

After shootings at other schools, including Columbine and Deer Creek Middle School, gun advocates have argued that the presence of more weapons among school personnel might have prevented or lessened the bloodshed. But Mauser doesn't buy that.

"Particularly in the case of Deer Creek, I don't see how there could have been a quick-enough reaction to undo what happened -- and I feel it's more important that our teachers are trained to be teachers. How many hours of training would it take for a teacher to learn how to deal with a particular situation?

"I've gotten a lot of e-mails over the years saying, 'If teachers had been armed at Columbine, it might not have happened' -- and maybe there's some minuscule chance that could be the case. But there are many, many other things that could have played out. That's why our police go through countless hours of training to learn how to deal with those kinds of circumstances and the kinds of questions that come up.

"Do you make the situation worse with a weapon? Do you become the first victim, or the next victim, because you have one? Do you end up shooting someone who is running from the scene because you think they may be the person who was armed? And what happens when the police arrive on the scene? Do they think the teacher is the person doing the shooting? And do you engage the person with the gun who hasn't yet fired and possibly lead to more carnage than there should have been? There are so many possible circumstances that saying a gun would have solved everything is a very simplistic solution."

Here's the ad copy regarding the gun-show loophole:


Eleven years ago tomorrow, two gunmen murdered my son Daniel and twelve others at Columbine High School. The shooters acquired three of their guns through a private seller at a gun show, with no background checks. Federal law does nothing to prevent anyone - even a violent convicted criminal -- from walking into a gun show and buying a gun from a private seller without a background check. This is the so-called "Gun Show Loophole."

Shortly after the tragedy at Columbine, 70% of Coloradans voted to close this dangerous loophole, but in many other states the loophole remains - including every state surrounding Colorado. That means that Coloradans can still easily be victimized by guns brought here from other states.

We need a federal law to close the Gun Show Loophole for good, just like we have in Colorado.

Your colleague, Senator Michael Bennet, is standing up for Colorado's public safety by co-sponsoring S. 843, the bill in the United States Senate to close the Gun Show Loophole. It's time for you to join him.

In 1999, you voted for a nearly identical bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In fact, more than two out of three NRA members support closing the Gun Show Loophole, according to a December 2009 poll by Republican pollster Frank Luntz.

On the 11th anniversary of the Columbine tragedy, I urge you to stand with Senator Bennet and the vast majority of Coloradans by working to close the Gun Show Loophole.

Sincerely, Tom Mauser

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts