A Dark Knight in Aurora, A Dark Day for America...
The basic outlines of the “dark knight” massacre in Aurora, Colorado, are now well known. A 24-year-old medical school dropout named James Egan Holmes acting alone opened fire with an assault rifle in a crowded theater, killing 12 people and wounding 59.
A lot of good the Department of Homeland Security did in Aurora that night as “The Dark Knight” was emerging from his booby-trapped spider hole. There’s plenty of obvious irony in the subtitle of that damned movie: “The Dark Knight Rises.” Irony is one thing; tragedy leaves an altogether different taste in one’s mouth. A bitter taste like poison-laced lemon peels.
Living in Colorado, when I heard the first news stories on the BBC within minutes of the shootings, I thought of a high school, another massacre, and a lone shooter. Columbine. So, of course, did people all over the world from Copenhagen to Cairo, from Toronto to Tokyo. The Columbine horror happened only about a dozen years ago; it’s the kind of thing that remains lodged in the world’s collective memory for a long, long time.
Aurora and Columbine are within shouting distance of each other, less than 20 miles apart as the crow flies. That’s too close for comfort, but in fact these two crimes are obviously a lot closer from a sociological perspective. Google Maps is a great tool but it has nothing to say about pathological killers, or about a society that defines terrorism in a way that excludes the terrorist next door.
Any mass murderer – from Adolf Hitler to Osama bin Laden – is a deranged individual, of course. The fact is there are LOTS of deranged individuals among us, lots of nut cases. What was once abnormal behavior can (has?) become the new normal. Who really knows what’s normal, anyway? And who decides? Calling a mass murderer deranged doesn’t prove or solve anything.
The central tragedy in this tapestry of tragedies is not about the wasted life of a young man with a bright future nor about the senseless death of a dozen innocent people (including Veronica Moser, aged six) who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but rather in the fact that there was a federal law on the books banning the sale and manufacture of semi-automatic weapons. The law, the Assault Weapons Ban (AWB,) – aka the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act – was passed in 1994.
The Assault Weapons Ban act was inadequate because it did not apply to assault weapons manufactured before 1994 and because it contained an expiration date (a decade). But it was a step in the right direction and provided time for the public and Congress to “get religion” and tighten the provisions of this half-good law. At least that was the hope.
But in 2004, after 9-11 handed the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) a public relations howitzer, Congress in its wisdom allowed the law to lapse. The result is plain to see: victims of crimes that ought to be impossible to carry out. One individual simply can’t shoot 71 people in a matter of seconds with a hunting rifle. The gun used in the Aurora shooting was reportedly a Smith and Wesson semi-automatic similar to the AR-15; the latter is modeled after the M-16.
My hunting rifle, by the way, is a single shot. If you can hit the broad side of barn that’s all you need, that plus an ounce or two of common sense. The latter, however, is a rare commodity inside the beltway where private money trumps public morality and integrity is like a lawmaker’s illicit affair – embraced but not loved.
Seldom will an esteemed member of that institution dare to offend against the NRA. When the only thing that really matters is getting re-elected, it’s not hard to be soft on guns. And to wrap yourself in the flag while you’re bending over to receive your reward.
After all, lethal weaponry takes a back seat to only one amendment in the Bill of Rights. It was apparently the second thing the founders thought of right after they thought of liberty. It’s perfectly logical: citizens need guns to preserve liberty and prevent government from taking away rights, like the right to own guns. Get it?
But the staunch and ever-so-patriotic defenders of the absolute right to bear firearms never talk about the context of the Second Amendment. They never talk about the state of the union or the world or weapons technology in the late 1700s. They never mention that automatic weapons didn’t exist then. Ditto for semi-automatic weapons and even repeating rifles. And they never point out that hunting in early post-colonial America wasn’t a sport so much as a way of – and here I’ll quote the inimitable George W. Bush – “putting food on your family”.
Batman III is yet another in a long line of fantasy/action films about a twisted and tormented killer – the evil villain – and, of course, a fearless, indomitable superhero. These films are all the same: following a lot of murder and mayhem, justice prevails in the end, and everyone lives happily ever after. Except, of course, the evil villain’s victims.
In real life, there’s no happy ending. And as long as politicians, preachers, judges, and self-appointed guardians of liberty continue to pretend that there’s no legal or moral – or lethal – difference between, for example, hunting rifles designed to kill deer or elk one at a time and military-style weapons designed to kill scores of people in a minute or less (the AR-15, for example, can use a high density magazine containing more than 30 rounds) there will continue to be “tragedies” like the ones in Columbine and Aurora. And that’s the real tragedy.