James Holmes changed everything in Aurora, yet his unfathomable act of mass murder 10 years ago has changed little else outside of the city.
Since July 20, 2012, when Holmes sneaked into a packed Aurora theater just after midnight and started shooting, a staggering 595 Americans have been murdered during another 75 mass shootings, and another 1,105 have been wounded during mass shooting gunfire, according to a recent catalogue of shootings compiled by Rolling Stone Magazine.
That pales in comparison to the approximately 1 million Americans dead or injured from gun violence outside of mass shootings since the Aurora theater massacre.
Gun rights extremists point to a need to lock down schools and lock up mentally ill people. Mental health treatment is a complicated and pervasive problem in the United States, as it is in other modern democracies, which don’t have epidemic gun violence. Only the United States has an undeniable crisis with shooting deaths.
The nation’s unwillingness to even slow, let alone end, epidemic gun violence is among America’s most shameful failures.
It isn’t that the United States is incapable of ending not just rampant mass murders, but the leading cause of childhood death among Americans: gun violence. We have refused to limit the power and abundance of American firearms. We permit virtually anyone older than 18, not yet old enough to drink beer, to obtain weapons designed for use in war or policing, engineered to efficiently and rapidly kill other human beings.
In what can only be described as dark, cruel comedy, gun aficionados say these assault weapons make great hunting rifles. In the shadow of the horror of the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, Colorado Congressperson Ken Buck recently said assault rifles are needed because they are regularly used by farmers across the state to kill raccoons.
Congress and state governments have refused to require gun owners to prove their ability to safely wield and store a weapon so deadly it can kill dozens or even hundreds of people in minutes, yet we require extensive licenses to drive a car and even cut hair.
We refuse to limit how many semi-automatic firearms a gunman can own, yet we limit cats to five per household.
Few states are like Colorado, which at least limit firearm magazines to 15 rounds, more than enough to create a massacre without ever changing a clip. Most other states allow highly efficient semi-automatic weapons loaded with massive magazines to operate as virtual machine guns, allowing gunmen to take out dozens of people in a store, a school or even at a parade, all within seconds.
We allow virtually anyone a loophole to bypass background checks to buy a gun, even several of them, without regard for their criminal pasts or their current mental illness.
As of June 1, two-thirds of all Americans want stricter gun control laws, including meaningful universal background checks, according to a variety of recent polls, including those maintained by Gallup.
A stunning one-third of all Americans now believe all handguns should be banned, except for those used by police, these polls show.
More than 80% of gun owners believe all gun purchases in the United States should be subject to background checks, steady polling reveals.
And almost 60% of Americans say the need for reducing gun violence by implementing gun controls outweighs the need to ensure gun rights, the same polls show.
With so much overwhelming need and desire to control guns and gun deaths, it’s appalling that 10 years have passed since the Aurora theater shooting and so little meaningful progress have been made.
Just last week, the Biden administration to great fanfare celebrated the signing of Safer Communities Act, the first gun-control bill created by Congress in nearly 30 years. The bill meagerly suggests states enact red-flag legislation, slightly improves background checks and works to strengthen restrictions for domestic violence convicts.
The lack of useful gun control legislation is the result of extreme minority rule in state and federal governments, and money.
Guns are an approximate $28 billion-a-year industry, several sources estimate. Gun-rights groups outspend gun-control groups 6 to 1 in lobbying members of Congress and state lawmakers, by as much as $16 million last year.
It’s not just money. Gun-rights play heavily into partisan primary races. For Republicans, that means that the most conservative voters often call the shots in primary races, ensuring gun-rights interests are backed by acquiescent winning candidates.
In efforts to stay elected in swing congressional and legislative districts, many Democrats shy away from gun-control issues to keep their positions.
Democratic state Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex Sullivan was killed in the Aurora theater shooting, has long been a champion for common-sense gun control in the state. He has on more than one occasion lamented Democrats’ cold feet for meaningful gun control bills. It’s a problem that got worse after partisan recalls against two Democrats were successful in 2014, after the Colorado Legislature passed tepid magazine limits and background checks in the state.
Despite the consistent and growing desire for gun control, elected leaders won’t deliver it, and voters won’t make them.
And so 20 years have passed after the Columbine massacre. Ten years have now gone by after the Aurora theater shooting and Sandy Hook elementary school cataclysm.
That decade has been long enough to prove, without a doubt, mass shootings and rampant gun violence will continue for the next decade, unless voters choose legislative and congressional candidates who will make gun control happen instead of rationalizing why it won’t.
No other democratic, Western nation lives like this. We don’t have to either.