Comments on the aftermath of the Aurora shooting
By Michael Dean Benton
On July 20, James Holmes, dressed in protective armor, unleashed a violent attack with assault weapons on a capacity audience during the opening night screening of the Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. 71 people were shot, 12 dead. The worst shooting attack in American history.
In his assault, Holmes utilized smoke grenades, a 12 gauge Remington 870 Express Tactical shotgun, a Smith & Wesson M & P 15 semi-automatic rifle with a 100 round magazine, and a 40 caliber Glock 22 handgun. In the theater parking lot, his car held more guns. At his apartment, Aurora police found a home wired with over 30 homemade grenades.
While many prominent politicians felt compelled to respond to the tragedy, few offered any meaningful suggestions, and even worse, some sought to cynically capitalize on the event. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) headed this list when he attempted to link the shooting to ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs. Gohmert believes, or claims, that this shooting could have been avoided if we, as a country, placed a higher value on God.
President Barack Obama and likely Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who both responded immediately to the incident, recalled a different deity. Romney’s comments included a statement of condolence for the victims and their families and a vague, simplistic conclusion that several minutes of gunfire represented “a few moments of evil.” Obama agreed, describing violent attacks like these as “senseless” and simply “evil.” Both avoided any direct statement about daily gun violence in America or the efficacy of stronger gun control laws, though one week after the shooting, President Obama did boldly decide to take on the reality of gun violence in America. He claimed that we should make sure guns are never sold to the mentally ill or to children.
Neither of which qualities apply to James Holmes, who like many perpetrators of massive acts of gun violence in America, was by all accounts a very smart, very nice, very quiet young man. He was pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at a major university. As a law enforcement official claimed, he is an enigma because he had no record and never made any claims of intent to act violently.
And yet, almost always we can carefully investigate and map out the root causes of these violent events. Dismissing them as enigmas, as “monsters,” or simply as incomprehensible “evil” diverts us from thinking about the broader social forces and structures that lead to gun violence.
Why do 80% of gun deaths in the 23 wealthiest industrial societies take place in the USA? There are many theories. Some cite the violent nature of our entertainments, our frontier legacy of gun violence, and our broken homes. No doubt these could play a factor, sometimes, but this reasoning falls apart when we compare them to other industrial countries that have the same problems, say Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.
In truth, Americans kill more people with guns because we have easy access to high powered weapons and huge amounts of ammo. We are a nation that is home to the leading manufacturers and sellers of weapons worldwide. The powerful weapons lobby has shifted the debate around gun control laws to the point where, even after a mass shooting captivates the nation, both candidates for the Presidency are too terrified to even consider the impact of gun violence in America, much less whether any gun control laws are necessary to address the problem. And so, in a culture of fear that looks to violence as an answer—collectively and individually—we are encouraged to believe that the constitution gives us the right to buy assault rifles and thousands of rounds of high powered ammo at a moment’s notice.
Holmes acquired the weapons and ammo for his attack with relative ease, in a short period of time, and with next-to-no governmental oversight. The guns used in the attack were all purchased from local gun shops and after authorized background checks. Just weeks before the incident, the college graduate purchased 7,000 rounds of ammunition off the internet: 3020 .223 rounds, 3550 40 caliber rounds, and 350 12 gage rounds.
When we allow ourselves to be manipulated into believing that these explosive acts of violence, as well as the daily carnage of gun violence in America, is simply the actions of “evil” people, we are ignoring important questions and answers. This is not a gun issue, as it has been framed by the powerful weapons lobby; this is a crime issue and we should approach it as such. Since when have Americans been resistant to dealing with issues of crime? Should it not give us pause that are conservative politicians do not want to deal with crimes?
I do not believe we should ban guns in the USA. I do however believe that they should be regulated just like any dangerous, ubiquitous technology, say, the automobile. We have age restrictions for the use of the automobile. We have extensive training and state testing for the right to use an automobile. We have laws involving the use of an automobile that if broken can lead to a person losing their right to operate it. If you move from one state to another, we have laws that require you get a new license to operate an automobile within thirty days.
If we have these requirements for citizens if they desire to operate automobiles, why would it be so unreasonable to require the same licensing and testing of gun owners?