The view from the Aurora Sentinel newsroom window is about the same as last year. In the near distance, a vacant field looks much like it did before it became an enormous shrine to victims of Aurora’s July 20 theater massacre.
The Century 16 theater looks only slightly different than it did before James Holmes unleashed death and terror one year ago during the opening of what was then the latest installment of the Batman movie franchise.
It’s a reflection of the rest of the state and the country as well. Even after 26 children and school staffers were murdered in a Newtown, Conn. school just a few months later by another mentally ill man with guns, little has changed.
Legislatures in Connecticut and Colorado were able to pass measures that infuriated gun-rights activists while at the same time did little to either reduce the number of guns, reduce easy access to guns, restrict access to guns by mentally ill people, or reduce the number of military-grade weaponry that is becoming increasingly prolific.
As for Congress, their meager attempts at addressing the problems of rampant gun violence and outright massacres was pathetic.
Given this, it couldn’t be more clear that people in Aurora and all over the country need to be the agents for change. There actually are political leaders willing to offer or entertain new ideas or even old efforts. But without public support, overzealous gun-rights groups and the self-interested firearms industry will continue to call the shots.
Most important is a campaign to educate the public on the facts about gun violence and gun control. Working against a propaganda machine built on misleading sound bites and bumper-sticker logic, America’s waning appetite for understanding details of complex matters is just what the firearms industry is hoping for.
More Americans need to understand that few gun-control advocates are asking to seriously restrict lawful gun owners. Instead, most are asking for accountability measures and ways to reduce access to weapons that previously had only military applications. Sadly, our schools and movie theaters have become war zones partly because we have such easy access to war-zone weaponry.
Also, one year after the Aurora massacre, Colorado needs to talk seriously about mental health issues. It’s undeniable that mental illness is key to the problem, more to the point, untreated mental illness. In almost every case of a mass shooting, the murderer was clearly handing out signs that such an attack was very possible or even imminent. As the James Holmes’ story continues to unfold, it’s likely the public will be shocked by how much those around Holmes knew before his attack.
Colorado must wade into the dilemma of how much personal freedom to sacrifice in order for the state to detect and act on those who create such a danger to the public. Such discussions of nearly eliminating sacred personal rights for the public good will make fractious gun-control debates seem easy.
We can wait no longer to find ways to identify and stop people likely to commit mass murders. Delaying this debate only invites an opportunity for another community like Aurora to have to look back after a year beyond the next inevitable theater or school massacre. It’s time to make real changes.