Why does Aurora happen?
What does it say about us as a culture, that this kind of thing happens here? That it happens here more than it happens any other place in the world?
We’re not at war at home. We’re not in a place where suicide bombings happen, and we’re not currently engaged in a religious or territorial war within our own borders.
Why does it happen here?
What does it say about us as a culture that it does happen here? What does it say about us as a culture that we glorify guns, even eroticize guns, and market them in the way the billboard image I’ve used with this column does?
What does it say about us as a culture that some people seek out fame, infamy or a perceived glory by going down guns a’blazing, in a hail of bullets and a stream of gunfire?
What does it say about us as a culture that there are people who turn to that? And what does it say about us as a culture that they can easily get the means to do that? That every move made by the Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes, up until the moment that he tossed his first smoke bomb in the movie theater, was legal?
He obtained the guns legally, including an assault rifle that had been banned for sale to civilians until that ban expired in 2004. He obtained the ammunition—6,000 rounds of ammo—legally.
In our culture, we do have an ongoing verbal and political battle over the freedom and right to bear arms, and perhaps it needs to be reframed as a question between the right to bear arms and the freedom and right to go to a movie theater without getting shot. Just as important as the right to bear arms is the freedom and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I’m not saying that the right to bear arms is not something that deserves to be protected. I am not against the Second Amendment. Let me state that again, loud and clear, especially for those of you who in the past have thought I was, (including those who put me on a pro-gun, anti-gun-control ‘Bang List’):
I am not against the Second Amendment.
However, what is it about our culture that allows bad people to easily have access to such destructive weaponry? Why didn’t somebody purchasing 6,000 rounds of ammunition set off some kind of alarm somewhere? Why don’t we have that built into the structure of how someone can legally and safely obtain that amount of terror?
Didn’t anyone wonder why someone might need to have that much automatic weaponry? Is that rational, even for someone who just wants to hunt legally, or shoot target practice legally.
One Denver columnist posed the question asking if James Holmes had instead been named Ibrahim or Mohammed, would someone have stopped to ask ‘why?’ then.
In the days after Holmes walked into that midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, there were critics who said, “Oh sure, this tragedy is just gonna get politicized.” And I know someone will accuse me of politicizing it because I’ve written this column. But discourse, debate and discussion is exactly what should happen after this kind of awful, horrible event—rational dialogue about how our country and our culture handles this idea of what having the right to bear arms really means.
In fact, to me, shutting down that conversation would be politicizing it more so than any kind of examination of how much arms are too much.
Undoubtedly, someone will make the argument that our nation’s forefathers and founders wanted to protect the right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution. I’m sure they did. However, the rational thinker in me has to counter-argue that I can’t imagine they could have dreamed up the kinds of weaponry and arms we now find available.
We, as a nation, have to have this conversation. On behalf of the 12 victims who were killed by James Holmes’ bullets, and on behalf of the 59 other victims who were injured by James Holmes’ bullets, and on behalf of the hundreds of those 71 victims’ family members, and on behalf of the millions of other people who all weekend asked, “Why?”—we need to have this conversation.
We need to have this conversation because of people like Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, who questioned why people in the movie theater didn’t have a gun to defend themselves. Or because of former Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, who posted on Facebook about those moviegoers in the Aurora theater that they should have been more brave and prepared—in other words, armed.
Those statements—which amount to blame-the-victims—is just what we need, right? We need the return to the Wild West inside that darkened movie theater, with more bullets from all sides flying across the theater in the pitch black dark.
Has that ever worked? Has anyone in the middle of a mass shooting massacre ever been stopped by a gun-wielding hero who wasn’t a police officer called to the scene?
Obviously, I’m impassioned and emotional about this, as we should be when 12 people are killed in senseless gunfire. We should be saddened, we should be horrified, and we should be moved to have rational discussion about how to make this less likely to happen again.
Will it ever stop? For sure, not at the rate we’re going. Will it stop with blind, absolute arguments from either side on the gun control debate? Not with the ‘You’ll-only-pry-this-weapon-out-of-my-cold-dead-hands’ mentality nor with the ‘Make-all-guns-illegal’ approach either.
How about we start by taking both of those options off the table.
But let’s find some middle, rational ground.
Let’s listen to sane voices like Jim and Sarah Brady, who said in a statement after the Aurora shootings: “Congress has done nothing since the mid-1990s to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. We pledge to keep fighting the NRA and entire gun lobby in an effort to strengthen our background checks to include all firearm purchases, ban assault clips with large magazines that enable mass killers, and to make it more difficult to obtain concealed carry permits.”
Or even conservative columnist Bill Kristol, who said “People have a right to handguns and hunting rifles,” he said. “I don’t think they have a right to semi-automatic, quasi-machine guns that can shoot hundred bullets at a time. And I actually think the Democrats are being foolish as they are being cowardly. I think there is more support for some moderate forms of gun control.”
Or even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who called on each of the Presidential candidates “to stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it.”
So that we may someday have fewer and fewer of these conversations. So that we may have fewer times we have to ask, ‘Why?’ Why Aurora? Why Ft. Hood? Why Gabby Giffords? Why Virginia Tech?
We need to ask, ‘Why?’ a lot less, and we need to say ‘No more. Let’s make this stop.’