Eighteen years before this week’s Las Vegas massacre, there was Columbine — a catastrophe that saw two students kill twelve other teenagers and a teacher. In between the two massacres, mass shootings have become a daily occurrence in America, and the question is: why?

To try to answer that, International Business Times interviewed Tom Mauser, the father of Daniel Mauser, who was one of the kids killed at Columbine. Mauser is now a board member of Colorado Ceasefire, a nonprofit that aims to reduce gun violence. He has been involved in the push for gun control in Colorado and in the debate over whether to arm teachers in schools.

Mauser arrived at our recording studio wearing his son’s sneakers. The podcast discussion covered everything from mental health to gun control to politics. Over the course of the conversation, he expressed despair over the fact that gun laws have not changed, and he also weighed in on whether society should blame the friends and family members of shooters for their acts of violence. 

Subscribers can click here to listen to the full podcast discussion. What follows is a lightly edited excerpt of the conversation.

Mass shootings have become a fact of life in America since Columbine. Has anything changed since the day your son was killed?

I think there are a number of things. I think a number of changes were made, certainly the biggest one was the whole idea of an active shooter. In the case of Columbine, they went into the old mode. They will say, "That was standard operating procedure, and you follow it." There is standard operating procedure, but based on conditions, you have to change. They should have gone into that school, and not waited as long as they did.

Then I think there was also an acknowledgement that this will probably continue to happen, because it's difficult to stop. We need to start training students to be prepared for it. We've seen changes in designs of schools, in how they now lock the classrooms. When I was growing up, it was ducking under the desk for the nuclear blast. Now it's getting ready for the active shooter.

GettyImages-149085778 (3) Tom Mauser, wearing his son Daniel's shoes, at the Columbine High School Memorial July 22, 2012 in Littleton, Colorado. Photo: DON EMMERT/AFP/GettyImages

In those lockdown drills, what should we be telling kids they are preparing for — and how can we be honest with them without terrifying them?

I think probably kids aren't really ready for that until 8, 9, 10 years of age. Before that, it's just it has to be, like you say, very generalized. In case something happens, there might be some bad people. Maybe they robbed the bank, and they've come into the school. They maybe can relate to robbing the bank. It's real hard to present to a kid the possibility there could be someone who wants to murder you.

In the aftermath of shootings, we have seen people promote conspiracy theories about the shooters or about what happens. Is this harmful to the victims’ families?

They're absolutely hurtful to families. I'll point specifically to the Newtown and Aurora shootings, where you had these conspiracy theorists saying, "These things didn't really happen." I've talked to the parents who were from those shootings, and it's not only that somebody's questioning whether they lost their loved ones. They've actually taken phone calls and received mail from people questioning, "Why are you continuing this false story? Why are you saying you lost a loved one when you didn't?"

It's atrocious that these kinds of things are out there. I think it's a sign of people who just cannot accept reality. This is part of the excuse-making that we have I think in America. "No, this can't really be true. I refuse to change. I refuse to think of things in any different way, so I have to come up with an alternative explanation for it."

Why do you think mass shootings have become such a normal day-to-day fact of life in America? Is it the prevalence of guns? Is it a mental health epidemic?

I think a lot of it is a perfect storm, and a lot depends on what situation you're talking about. For example, these mass shootings. We focus so much on these large mass shootings. They're still a relatively small percentage of the over 10,000 gun murders that happen every year. Proportionally, a large proportion are domestic shootings that you don't hear a lot about. As long as there's four people shot, that qualifies as a mass shooting. In that respect, we have one almost every day.

In those cases — domestic and I think in the case of the mass shootings —  we have a lot of very angry people, angry, revengeful people, but I think if you went back 50 years, you'd see that those that might have been people who were suicidal, or who indeed went through the divorce, but today we seem to have so many angry people in this country who cannot accept things. They are very vengeful. They're not satisfied to take their own life. They've got to take somebody with them. That's a statement that's pretty doggone unique to the United States.

Why do you think this is such a uniquely American problem?

Maybe it's that we've been given so much freedom, and that we've not been really programmed enough to care about other people around us. We're a very individual-minded society. Take care of yourself. I think some of those people, when they can't or when things are out of control, they want to blame it on others. They've got to take somebody with them. I think there's something about... That is what's unique about America. We are so much more individualistic than other nations that are much more community-minded.

When it comes to the perpetrators of these shootings, we so often hear shock from their friends, family and neighbors. It’s that classic response of, “he was such a nice quiet guy, we had no idea.” Do you think this reflects a lack of attention, or do you think it's legitimately that many of these shooters are completely and perfectly normal, well-adjusted people who then suddenly crack?

No, they don't crack. They usually plan them well in advance. An awful lot of them are sociopaths. I've heard the brother of the [Las Vegas] shooter saying, "He wasn't political. He wasn't religious." Then I also later heard him say, "He was narcissistic. He was a bit strange. He was a bit eccentric." I think he was probably a sociopath, and certainly one of the killers at Columbine I think was a sociopath. They can hide that pretty well. I should say psychopath. They can hide that very well. They're very good at hiding that. They don't let people into that part of their lives.

Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the Columbine shooters, has been speaking out about her effort to come to grips with what happened. How does it make you feel to see the mother of your son’s killer talking publicly about it?

Specifically in the case of Sue, I was glad that she spoke out, because what angered me the most was the fact that the parents never really said anything. We really didn't hear anything authentic, any kind of heartfelt sympathy, statements coming from them. In fact, I wrote to them in 2008. I had never met these folks. I never came face to face with them. A few of the parents who sued them did get to see them face to face. I wasn't one of them.

I wrote to them. That was my primary message, not just, "I'm mad as hell because your son killed my son." It was, "And what are you doing with this? How are you healing? One way you can heal is to talk about it. Yeah, you're exposing yourself, but so what? You can do something to honor your child or at least in some way make something good out of this by talking about what went wrong." I was glad. I sat down and met with three or the four parents face to face, and talked about that. I was glad that Sue eventually did come out and open up.

Las Vegas People take cover at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard in Las Vegas, Nevada, Oct. 1, 2017. Photo: Getty Images/ David Becker/

Do you think society should blame the friends and family of mass murderers for the violence they end up perpetrating?

I think to a certain extent, yes. Why didn't you see more? I wouldn't use the word blame. I would say we need to question them in very strong terms, and then probably even some anger. Why didn't you see it? Tell us what those signs are. Don't just tell me, "I can't believe it." There's something that you probably saw that you weren't willing to share because that's going to be a heavy burden on you, but if you don't share that with us, then you're not helping us for the next potential case that's going to come up like this. If you don't share it, just like any of the people who are around these people, if they don't open up and share with what they missed, they're not helping anything.

Is part of the problem that people don’t know what to do when they are concerned about a friend or family member’s behavior?

That is a really important part of this problem, is people don't know what to do with information once they have it. Once they see some red flags, they're not sure what to do. That's why I say we have to be careful not to just blame them or cast them out and be so difficult, because indeed, we as a society don't really provide many things that people can do. In the case of the Aurora shooter, his psychologist saw some real disturbing behavior there, but frankly, nothing in place at that time could have prevented him from purchasing those guns.

We have to have things in place. People aren't sure. That's why we have to talk more about that. What do you do when you see that neighbor with unusual behavior? Again, in an individualistic society, that's a tough subject, because it goes right away to the privacy question, and it goes to the, "Hey, I don't want the government checking on me just because my neighbor said he thinks I'm dangerous." Okay. At one level, I can understand that, but at another level, what do we do when we have somebody?

That's where I think I see a big difference between Columbine and the shootings like this one. In the case of Columbine and other school shootings, we find that these shooters tend to display ... They give signals of what they're doing, because they're teenagers. Everything is about peers with them, so they give signals out. It's good that we're teaching students now, "Look for those signs," but with adults, they're not going to, especially if they're a recluse or they have some mental issues.

There was a Washington Post op-ed arguing that there is no concrete research showing that stronger gun control would reduce gun violence. What do you say to that?

I think it's absolute nonsense. Really, it is nonsense, because yes indeed, those nations didn't have many mass shootings before they had those buybacks, but they also already had pretty strict laws in those nations, and they didn't have a high level of gun violence. They continue not to have a high level of gun violence, despite the fact that of course we hear the gun lobby saying, "Crime has gone up in those countries because people can't protect themselves anymore." People in those countries have said, "That is nonsense."… I would love to have, frankly, the level of gun violence in the U.S. that we have in those other nations. They have a fraction of what we have. A fraction.

How much do you think those lower rates of gun violence have to do with those other countries’ stricter gun laws?

I think it has a lot to do with it, an awful lot. All you have to do is look at the number of countries, which is nearly all of the other major industrialized nations have much, much stricter gun laws than we do, and they also have a very low level of gun ownership in them. Then you look at the U.S. alone, compared to them, with high gun ownership and very, very weak gun laws. I don't see how anybody could argue that is a mere coincidence.

Do you think anything will change after the Las Vegas massacre?

I think unfortunately we will largely go back to the complacency that has plagued us, and the feeling that there's nothing we can do. There's just nothing. It's just evil. We're great at making excuses. The gun lobby is especially good at it, but I think Americans in general will make excuses for why there just doesn't seem to be anything to be done.

Having said that, I do think there is the potential in this case for at least one issue to be talked about, and that's going to be the conversions. I think this could be one place, one narrow focus, where people in America are going to say, "Wait a minute. We thought that automatic weapons were outlawed in this country. Machine guns were outlawed. I heard that video. I heard the sound of that gun. Wasn't that an automatic weapon?" No, it wasn't, but it was converted essentially to effectively be an automatic weapon. I think if people will at least focus on that one issue, maybe we could see some change, and we could start talking about this dirty little secret that's in the gun industry of how we're converting semiautomatics to essentially automatics.

Is there any argument that the anti-gun-control groups have made that you think holds merit?

I can't think of anything. I can only agree with them that there are many good, responsible, law-abiding gun owners. I will agree with that. Beyond that, I think what they largely have done is created a lot of fear and put a lot of misinformation out there. Just even in what you said there about them saying, "If you ban something," it always turns to that. If always turns to, "If you ban. If you don't let people protect themselves. If you confiscate their guns." There is not a bill in this country that's been introduced that would confiscate all guns or ban all guns. This is the fear thing they bring out.

The fact is, we're already the most heavily armed nation on Earth among industrialized nations. How are you going to confiscate over 275 million firearms? It's not going to happen. Yet they still go back to that same story of, "Gee, if you confiscate, if you ban them, if you take them away from us." That's not going to happen. Unfortunately, we have to learn to live with what we have. This is the society we've created, and it is very much a gun culture. How are we going to make the most of it? How are we going to at least do something to reduce that level of gun violence? I don't hear anything coming from the gun lobby that would really do that.

What about that whole argument that “a good guy with a gun is the best defense against a bad guy with a gun.” This has been the argument for more security guards and for arming teachers. Is that a good argument?

No, it's not a good argument at all. First of all, in Israel, yes, they do have armed people around, because they are under siege in a way. Actually, Israel has very, very strict gun laws for civilians, but yes, they do have armed people. I don't have any problem with armed security guards in schools. We should have them. We should have them in more places, indeed. Trained people. What the gun lobby is presenting is this notion of each person for themselves. Again, it's looking at things from an individualistic perspective. If I have that gun, I can protect myself and my loved ones.

It really doesn't happen very often. We've been highly armed for quite some time. These cases of people stopping the bad guy really doesn't happen very often. What they're really promoting is we need to have more people armed, and then we'll reach that nirvana where we've stopped crime. The problem is, the more you reach out and get more people armed, the more accidents you're going to have, the more bad shootings you're going to have, the more crossfire shootings you're going to have. You're going to have people who really aren't trained and really don't know what they're doing.

We're not going to reach that nirvana. We're going to have to come to grips with the fact that we're so heavily armed that these shootings, these mass shootings and suicides, let's not forget suicides are part of this, are going to continue to happen. What can we do to minimize it? Arming ourselves more isn't going to do it, because we've already seen that when you compare us with the other nations.

What do you think would have to happen to change anything when it comes to gun violence?

I think it's going to take a completely different worldview by young people. My generation has failed, and the generation after me has failed… There is a philosophical belief by people on the pro-gun side that you're not going to change. It is a very dystopian view. I think it's important to really say to young people, "Is that the kind of world you want to live in?”… I know that it's almost always in the mind of young people to go a different direction than the generations before them. I'm hoping that at some point they will see the dangers in moving towards that dystopian outlook.