Tuesday, July 24, 2012


At the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, a masked gunman later identified as James Holmes kicked in the emergency exit, threw down a smoke grenade, and created the worst mass shooting in American history. 12 dead, dozens more injured. There are no words of condolence strong enough, no way to empathize with the victims who were in the midst of the horror.

Those injured in the attack included a 3-month-old child and a 9-year-old girl. Most of the patrons of the theater that night were teenagers or young children and their parents. Children as young as 6 lost their lives to an incomprehensible act of violence. It's the kind of insanity that, struggle as we might to make sense of, more often than not we simply can't.

Not that we won't try. The news cycle will be dominated in the days and potentially weeks to come by coverage of the shooting. James Holmes will be picked apart by the press. His friends and relatives will be interviewed, and those interviews replayed on a constant cycle. The survivors will be heavily sought after to retell their harrowing stories of being inside the theater when the shooting began. 

They'll wonder about drugs. They'll wonder about the internet. They'll wonder about the influence of violent comic books, video games, and movies. They'll do anything to find out what makes Holmes tick.

And of course we'll see the conspiracy theories. It's a plot by the government to suppress the Second Amendment. There's a method to the madness. That makes it easy to explain, easier to digest. We can't understand how someone could behave in such an inhuman manner, so we create a story. A planned act, a shadowy conspiracy - that sparks the imagination. That gives us a narrative we can break down and comprehend.

Because it's just easier than facing up to that there is insanity in the world, and insanity does things we can't understand. Having a reason we can wrap our heads around somehow makes us feel safer than facing the reality that some things are beyond our understanding. Especially when it seems we hear the same story repeated a different way so many times, over and over again. Aurora. Fort Hood. DC. Virginia Tech. Tucson. Columbine.

Inevitably, the conversation will take a turn towards gun control. Questioning how we can prevent this from happening again in the future. For the victims of the Aurora theater shooting, there is little we can do at this point except offer our sincere prayers and sorrow. For the future, maybe there is something we can do and maybe there isn't, and that's what I'd like to spend a moment talking about now.

The Second Amendment guarantees us the right to bear arms. Where that right begins and ends has been such a vitriolic point of contention in the last decade that sales of guns and ammo skyrocket in response to a potential Democratic win. Despite gun-related crimes being on a general downward trend in the nation as well as state-to-state in recent years, the topic is brought up as a lead attack on liberal politicians. "They'll come for your guns" is the boogeyman used to scare gun-owners into voting Republican.

Which is not to say that claim is without merit. Gun control laws in several states have become very restrictive, to say nothing of even harsher city and town ordinances throughout the country. Some of these are just common sense - background checks, wait periods - these are good ideas of things to do before handing someone a deadly weapon. Banning them outright, not allowing concealed carry permits anywhere in the state (a law unique to Illinois), limiting the number of firearms which can be purchased at one time - it's easy to see how laws like these stick in the craws of gun owners.

Texas Representative Louie Gohmert asked the question; didn't anybody else in that theater have a gun? This comment bears repeating for the sheer irresponsibility of the idea. Would you encourage others to bring loaded weapons into a theater which you knew would be filled mostly with children and teenagers? Once Holmes, who could have likely withstood multiple direct shots through his body armor, threw down a smoke bomb in a darkened theater, would another shooter have really made the massacre any less bloody?

However, equally fallacious is the idea that if we took away all the guns, Holmes never would have been able to do what he did. Holmes had booby-trapped his entire apartment to explode. Softball-sized IEDs were discovered amongst his belongings. If he hadn't had access to guns, but was still determined to kill the people in the theater that night, he would have found a way, one possibly even worse.

There's a Superman story wherein the Man of Steel decides he's finally fed up with the violence in the world. He flies to a war-torn African nation and destroys the guns on both sides of the conflict, leaving the two opposing forces standing facing each other with no way to easily kill the other. So instead, they scoop rocks and sticks off of the ground and charge one another. When people are intent on killing each other, they find a way. James Holmes made up his mind that he was going to attack that theater in Aurora, and that insane decision was not going to be stopped.

We can't put the gun genie back in the bottle. Unless we had some sort of incredibly ironic genie-killing gun we could threaten it with. Unfortunately, that's what the political discourse in this country has pushed aside. By creating this environment where we feel our right to own a gun is constantly under attack, we forget that these rights we treasure also create in us a tremendous responsibility. We become so concerned with safeguarding our rights in the present against attacks against them, real or perceived, that we ignore the burden of responsible use these rights come with, and so we face the consequences of that oversight.

What are the consequences? Well, in the United States, 8775 people were killed by guns in 2010. In the same year, the United Kingdom had 600 gun-related deaths. In 2009, Canada had 173. Even if you extrapolate out for population, the U.S. is still thousands of deaths ahead.

Owning a gun is a right. It's a right of every American citizen, given to us by our founders to enable citizens to defend themselves from tyranny, because that was a concern back then. Could our founders have possibly envisioned the breadth of weaponry we have available today? Could they have predicted a world of gang violence, hand-held fully automatic guns, and senseless, bloody rampages? When they enshrined the Second Amendment of the Constitution, could they have foreseen children in darkened theaters with disturbed madmen intent on shooting them down? If they could have, would they still have drafted the Bill of Rights the way they did?

We'll never know. The decision was never in their hands, it's in ours. Don't expect any advances in dialogue to come anytime soon. Gun control is such a sensitive political issue that Congress considers the issue "settled." No pro-legislation politician will take a stand in an election year, and no pro-gun politician will say anything that hasn't already been repeated ad nauseum.

But maybe something can be done if we attack this problem from a different angle.

The provisions the United States makes for mental health care are not stellar to say the very least. With up to 44 million adults in the nation suffering some form of mental illness and less than half receiving care, it's almost more noteworthy that incidents like this don't happen more often.

What can we say about the perpetrator other than that he was disturbed? What if we lived in a country where seeking help for a mental disorder was not associated with a heavy social stigma? What if relatives or friends who recognized signs of disorder were able to seek help for others?

No one can say whether or not that would have prevented the tragedy in Aurora. But could it really hurt? If there were something we could do that even had a chance of keeping further attacks like this such as this from happening, isn't it crazy not to try?

In the meantime, I suppose we'll keep watching both sides try to pin this on the other while more mainstream talking heads tell us guns aren't the problem and we should just change the subject. So instead, they're banning costumes at movie theaters.

On a personal note, I wholeheartedly support the rights of Americans to own guns. As many guns as they want. The overwhelming, absolutely overwhelming majority of gun-owning Americans do no harm to others. I'd just like it if we had some mechanism - any mechanism - in place to promote the responsibility it entails, both of the individual and society as a whole, along with that right.

Thank you, and God bless.

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