Colorado Theater Shooting – Are Condolences Enough?

Having grown up just half an hour away from the Aurora Town Center, the news of the mass shooting during a The Dark Knight Rises midnight screening Friday, left me shocked. In my disbelief, I turned to my mom and asked, “How could this have happened?”

It’s a question many people around the world are asking themselves after James Holmes allegedly opened fire killing 12 people and injuring 59 others at a Colorado movie theater, but it was unbelievable to me because it hit so close to home.

My mom’s answer? We live in a very trusting society. We don’t expect a man to fire at men, women and children in a movie theater. Around the world, people live in fear of being robbed, raped and killed while doing their every day business, she told me. Not in U.S. suburbs, however. We don’t usually stray from wearing jewelry to keep robbers at bay or steer clear of public places (including movie theaters) in fear of guns and bombings like she had to in Peru, where in the 1980’s and ’90s the Communist terror group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) left more than 35,000 dead. That’s a big part of what she loves about the United States.

But in the past 15 years, we’ve had tragedies at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Rep. Gabby Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event and now at an Aurora, Colo. movie theater.  I have to wonder if I need to be more cautious, or even distrustful, of the person sitting next to me at the movies, walking behind me, etc.

I’m many states away from beautiful Colorado now, but that doesn’t make me any less affected by Friday’s shootings. I’ve driven past that shopping center. I know people who live near by. The Denver metro area is where I spent half my life. For someone to violate my former stomping grounds by killing innocent human beings watching a movie is chilling, disgusting and deeply saddening.

People were appalled at how quickly politics was brought up in relation to the events of the Dark Knight Rises midnight screening. But I find it only natural for people to want to find a way to prevent this kind of tragedy. In fact, I find these discussions slightly more constructive than sending “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families. As kind as those wishes are (and I offer them myself), they won’t bring back the innocent people who lost their lives Friday morning. Action – giving blood for those who were wounded or working out a safer way to sell guns – that’s productive.

So when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked that President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney address the issue of gun control, I didn’t find it insensitive. Not because I’m heartless or want to take everyone’s guns away, but because I’d like to know how my friends and family can attend a movie theater, high school, university or supermarket without facing death in the hands of a rifle-toting masked gunman. It might not happen every day but it happens enough to deserve serious public discussion.

Now I stand behind the second amendment as much as I stand behind the other 26. I understand a person’s desire to keep a handgun close by for protection. I would hope that person would be well-trained in using that gun so it isn’t used against them and that it would be kept safe and away from children. But I understand the reasoning behind having one, even if I personally don’t feel the need for a gun. What I can’t understand, however, is a civilian’s need for (and ability to purchase) an assault rifle, shot gun and, as Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates described it, “full ballistic gear.” Or why it’s not equally difficult to buy a weapon capable of killing as it is to be in on government secrets. Or why we can’t have a non-partisan conversation about how to maintain gun ownership rights AND tighter control over who can own a gun.

I know there are always going to be people who do atrocious things, and I know that there will also be a black market. I just don’t want to see more people die in shootings or for this country to fear public places like so many people did in Peru and many other places around the world. Instead of being associated with two of the most horrific mass shooting incidents in the past 13 years,  I hope Colorado once again evokes images of clear blue skies, aspen trees in the fall and the beautiful snow-capped Rocky Mountains to the west.

Photo credit: Mark Rantal