EDITORIAL: Four years after Aurora theater shooting, answers lie with a CDC investigation

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As tragic as the Aurora theater shooting was four years ago this week, more tragic is that nothing has been done to prevent future and similar massacres.

Aurora was hardly alone when it awoke on July 20, 2012 to learn that a madman had opened fire inside a packed movie theater, killing 12, maiming another 70 and turning the world upside down.

The speed and efficiency of the attack was stunning. Within minutes, shooter and former CU Anschutz student James Holmes changed hundreds of Aurora lives as first victims, then rescuers, then families reeled from the hasty carnage. Miles away, he had turned his apartment into a ticking time bomb.

The lessons of Columbine High School weren’t learned, and the Aurora theater massacre was the result. And so, too, was Sandy Hook Elementary School, the near assassination of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. And Orlando. And Colorado Springs. And Roseburg. And Charleston.

After each of these and other mass shootings, prayers and thoughts for families and victims are offered up, and nothing else. The country has become so calloused, so polarized and so dogmatic, we no longer even suggest even the pretense of trying to find a way to stem the flood of mass shootings and murders.

Four years after Aurora’s massacre and the country still is further than ever at finding ways to prevent mass shootings.

The blame is shared among many. Gun-right zealots in Congress and statehouses are to blame for not only dismissing gun reforms out of hand, but also for diminishing existing controls. A growing number of states want to allow any lawful citizen to immediately get a concealed carry permit, without training or a substantial background check. These zealots take their cues from the National Rifle Association and other industry lobbyists.

So we live in a world where mass shootings have become common, and we’re not sure why and have no idea how to stem the bloodshed.

That’s in a large part because of the NRA and a handful of well-connected gun lobbyists. These groups have for years prevented the U.S. Centers for Disease Control from researching the problem. It’s obvious why the party in power doesn’t want the feds looking too closely. The 1997 Dickey Amendment, which effectively bans CDC research into curtailing gun violence, directly and indirectly keeps our most important health research organization, possibly in the world, from tackling the problem, clearly because it may suggest legislation limiting gun rights.

And while it’s clear that mental health programs and reforms would be key to getting guns out of the hands of mentally ill people, even those programs have had no luck in finding funds for meaningful research or expansion.

In a political atmosphere where even the mere suggestion of mental-illness criteria bent on keeping the guns out of the hands of dangerously sick people causes dangerous political overreactions, we have essentially created a stalemate situation in finding a way to reduce the threat of gun violence. You can well imagine that a system empowering police to ask questions about guns of those who are suspected of doing untold mass damage with them would be impossible to get by this Congress.

And so we wait for the next mass shooting, where local and national officials and others offer up prayers and thoughts for the victims and their families.

Four years and hundreds more senseless deaths is enough.

This Congress wouldn’t dare touch the Dickey Amendment, allowing the CDC to conduct a non-partisan, independent investigation into gun violence, so it falls to the next one. With so much shared rhetoric among congressional candidates this year, here’s where they can set themselves apart. It doesn’t matter whether a candidate is supposedly pro-Second Amendment or pro-gun control, every candidate needs to commit to demanding a comprehensive CDC investigation that may not present us with news we want to hear about gun violence, but it’s the message we need to hear. At this point, a CDC investigation is the only answer left on the table, four years after Aurora set a new bar for horror that has since been diminished. We have to keep trying.