Originally published on 7/24/12 at The Only Podcast That Matters (theonlypodcast.com)
Everyone has now heard about the tragedy that occurred at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. James Holmes allegedly (I hate to even use that word) opened fire on a crowd of unsuspecting movie goers during the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises last Thursday night, killing 12 and wounding nearly 60 others. The attack lasted only a couple minutes, but is being called by authorities the worst mass shooting in American history. Dressed from head to toe in military-grade ballistics and protective gear, the gunman carried out what appears to be a premeditated attack with gas canisters and semi-automatic weapons, firing calmly and indiscriminately into the crowd. Some terrified theater patrons ran for exits once they realized the situation was not a gimmick or part of the show, but most dove to the ground to protect friends and loved ones from the hail of gunfire. Among the dead are a 6-year-old girl, an American soldier, several selfless gentlemen who shielded their girlfriends from bullets, and an aspiring journalist who narrowly escaped a shooting in the food court of a Toronto mall just weeks earlier. Holmes apparently surrendered to police near his car after the attack without resisting, preceding to tell the police that he is “the Joker” and that he had booby-trapped his own apartment with a complex array of homemade explosives.
It is difficult for many to dislodge from their minds the notion that this could have happened anywhere, that it could have been the theater they were in that night to do something as simple as enjoy a movie and escape life for a few hours. Looking back at a spate of mass shootings in recent American history, it is hard to grapple with the realization that places such as high schools, college campuses, malls, movie theaters, and even military bases seem to no longer be safe. That by no means that everyone should remain terrified and stay indoors from now on, it simply means that one can never know when or where something as horrific as this can happen.
This attack has again given rise to the ongoing gun control debate in our country. Lawmakers and ordinary citizens alike are calling for stricter gun control laws, and rightfully so. The battle is complex and longstanding, but the questions are simple, at least from where a right-minded person is standing. Why does an ordinary citizen need access to a semi-automatic rifle? Why is it so easy for someone to purchase tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition and not raise any red flags? Any sensible arguments here are of course bucked by NRA nutcases and shotgun-toting idiots in the South. The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right of “the people to keep and bear arms” has been picked apart by lawmakers, Supreme Court judges and armchair lawyers for centuries. While the actual text of the Amendment is brief, anyone who has ever taken a history class and has a brain in their head knows exactly what the Framers of the Constitution meant by it. The right to keep and bear arms was to be afforded to members of “a well-regulated militia”, and to citizens for the purpose of, at most, self-defense within the home. The text in no way guarantees anyone the right to carry weapons around at will. It is fair to assume that in modern day America, most gun owners are law abiding citizens who do nothing irresponsible with their weapons. However, criminal background checks and waiting periods are no longer enough for prevention of a heinous attack like the one that took place in Aurora last week. James Holmes, whose only previous brush with the law was a lone speeding ticket, purchased several weapons, including handguns, a shotgun and a semi-automatic assault rifle, along with tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, without anyone so much as raising an eyebrow. This should never be allowed to happen again.
A firestorm of emotions has spread across the country as a result of this attack, from anger, to disbelief, to fear, to heartbreak. Violence in movies has again been called into question as a possible impetus for someone like Holmes, who may have already been mentally ill, to carry out his attack. Every time something like this happens, the “life imitating art” argument comes into the arena of discussion, but it’s nothing more than a cheap and convenient way to dismiss the personal responsibility that comes along with the reasonable free will we are granted as American citizens. The blame placed upon movies and music when a violent act occurs in public is sickening and it needs to be stopped. Nothing a person sees in a movie or hears in a song is a valid motive for committing an atrocity. While entertainment and reality are not mutually exclusive, neither can be rightfully blamed for what the other does, or even the mere perception thereof. One of the survivors of the attack in Aurora is filing a lawsuit against Cinemark, the owner of the movie theaters for negligence and lack of security. Where the righteousness of the suit falls apart is in that it is also aimed at Warner Brothers, alleging that the violent scenes in The Dark Knight Rises may have prompted the attack by Holmes, even though the plaintiff in the suit voluntarily went to see said violent movie.
Holmes has apparently been entirely uncooperative with police since his arrest, and appeared dazed and sleepy during his first day in court. He has stated no motive, but it may eventually come out. Many a time, an attacker such as Holmes would just as soon kill himself at the end of his siege as surrender to the police. Luckily, there is a possibility that a motive may be uncovered. We can only hope that his defense team doesn’t play the mental illness card and get him off on insanity, thereby avoiding any actual punishment.
My heart sincerely goes out to the victims and their families, and I hope that one day Holmes will lose the very thing that he has taken from them.