From E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post to David Brooks of the New York Times, pundits, in the past few days, have tried to make some sense out of the senseless and tragic loss of life at Aurora, Colorado. In what has become known as the Movie Theatre Massacre, we find ourselves confronted and confounded by the vilest attribute inherent in human nature. We struggle with this dilemma, summing up different solutions for a positively different outcome.
Dionne, for his part, thinks our nation’s gun control laws are lax and are the ultimate defendant in this tragedy. He is unquestionably angered by the response of gun control advocates in the days after the shooting. “In a political version of Stockholm Syndrome,” he writes, “even those who claim to disagree with the National Rifle Association’s absolutist permissiveness on firearms lulled themselves into accepting the status quo by reciting a script of gutless resignation dictated by the merchants of death.” And for his greatest argument, he points out a study last year in the Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care that found 80 percent of all firearms deaths in 23 industrialized countries occurred in the United States.
Brooks on the other hand, (though admittedly a purveyor of stricter gun control laws), counters that the culprit in Aurora is not a society that has allowed this much access to guns, rather, the psychological state of these inflictors of mass pain. In his own anecdotal argument, he points out the inability of researchers reviewing gun control literature for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to validate the effectiveness of these laws. “People who commit spree killings are usually suffering from severe mental disorders,” he concludes. “The response, and the way to prevent future episodes, has to start with psychiatry, too.” In essence, better treatment for the deranged in our society.
While I salute these men on their approaches and to a good degree in congruence with both, I find myself subdued by a bigger reality and proposition.
Yes, I do believe there are limits to individual liberties. I find no convincing rationale for why a civilian in a peaceful city should be allowed to own automated assault weapons made primarily for fighting wars. In this case, there is no doubt we can do better by reinstituting a national ban on assault weapons. And as former police officer Michael A. Black, author of “I Am Not a Cop” do suggest, “Is it so unreasonable to consider a national or state-by-state registry for firearms” to better coordinate who’s owning what and how much of what? “While it might be considered un-American to prevent an ordinary citizen from owning an assault rifle, would it be too much to ask why he needs to have a specially modified 100-round magazine?”
And oh yes, I’m fully aware of the limitations of either enforcement or legislation here; after all, James Holmes did pass every conceivable test on the book and had no criminal history. As Brooks do show, there’s a mental aspect of things that’s going to demand our immediate attention. Recognizing, facilitating, and providing institutional help will go a long way toward decreasing the volatility of those who are prone to mass violent outbursts amongst us.
But then, this brings me back to an earlier point of a present and inescapable reality. The thread of shooting sprees in our society has only increased as the decades piled on. Alas, our continued technological sophistication has also equaled increased incidents of rampages. From the shooting to death of 69 innocent victims in Norway to the gunning down of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech, the crime scene at Aurora shows a tidal wave that might just be bigger than any of us to satisfactorily stop.
We are far from the elementary days of knives, swords, bows and arrows. While a lot of pain could be inflicted with these primitive weapons, none come close to the deadly precision and capacity our evolvement in science and technology provides. James Holmes had an assault rifle, a shot gun, and two pistols with which he murdered 12 people and injured many others in Aurora. Jared Loughner needed only a semiautomatic pistol to kill 6 people and injure 14 others in Tucson, Arizona; and would have killed more had his magazine not fall to the ground and was tackled when he tried to reload.
As Eugene Robinson of MSNBC and the Post did write, “we know parents and other loved ones are often powerless to intervene — if, indeed, they even become aware of a potential problem. There is no simple way to identify the handful of individuals who are quietly spinning out of control, unseen behind closed doors.”
All this leaves an eerie sense of powerlessness in the face of a menace. And for a society always looking for answers, I understand this might be particularly unsettling and have some in denial. It seems to me we are all out in the open, on some vast grassland in the Savannah, dotted with a few trees here and there. Now and then, some of us might be able to scramble up a tree to avoid this disaster, but most of us, regrettably, are vulnerable to ambush from these occasional episodes of psychosis or psychopathy. It is true; there might not be a better time to start believing in an Almighty God.