I’m surprised that it was the death of reason that strikes me one year after the Aurora theater massacre.
As to the obscene body count, my graying hair and newsroom tenure are foils to being overwhelmed by cruel murder. I’m not callous. When James Holmes started firing into Theater 9 at the Century 16 cinema last year just after midnight, he shot through everyone’s heart in Aurora, including mine. The kids he maimed and massacred waited on us at local restaurants. They played on local football teams. They were full of the life we all take for granted.
No, I’m not at all callous. A year after the funerals, the memorials, the checking of lists of names and reporting of court proceedings, I still look off when I talk about July 20, and I never talk about it for very long. I’m angry for the dead and injured. But I’m connected to the victims’ families by raw nerves that have bound this town of 330,000 people together for the rest of our lives.
In the hours after we counted the dead and uncovered the sordid mess behind Holmes, it became clear this was not some cataclysmic anomaly that materialized here. Twelve people died, dozens more were shot, and it all could have been relatively easily prevented.
Had Holmes’ screaming mental illness been addressed, had he not been able to so easily put together an arsenal that would be the envy of any Al Qaeda terrorist cell, had authorities been alerted to his quickly assembled collection, I would be struggling to figure out what I would be writing about this week in this space.
In less time than it took grass to grow over the fresh graves of those murdered here in Aurora, it happened again in Newtown, Conn. This time, it was little girls and boys trapped in classroom while a different madman with an astonishingly efficient assault rifle plucked off his victims. President Barack Obama and endless others patted our hands last July, saying that the timing just wasn’t right to talk about gun control. The timing suddenly became perfect during the Christmas holiday while an entire town worked to bury a classroom full of murdered children.
And the reaction? Insanity. It’s as if Holmes, Loughner and Lanza assassinated the last morsel of American empathy and reason. People who couldn’t even tell you what the Second Amendment says were suddenly maniacal to ensure not one law would be passed to address the plague of civilian and military-grade weapons that has infected this country. It’s as if the first 237 years of American gun control never existed. Even normally interested but reasonable people lost all sense of logic. They were shrill in their zeal to stop any and all legislative attempts to manage our deadly gun problem.
There’s no hyperbole here. Among the thousands of phone calls and emails I’ve received from rabid, intractable gunners, more than just a few made it clear they want me and others like me silenced, gone or dead. The din of moon-howling paranoia and extortion has been daunting. And when pressed to suggest what we should do about the increasingly frequent and deadly massacres of people who go to school or a movie, the answer is either a bewildering “nothing” or that we just keep weapons out of the hands of crazy people.
That’s right. A growing group of people who don’t trust the government to handle health care, tax collection or proving the president was born in the United States wants to empower that same government to decide what crazy is, who’s crazy, and when that means you can no longer have access to guns. Yeah, right.
There’s no doubt Holmes is crazy. Only crazy people do such things. Whether he was “insane” at the time of the murders, well, that’s another story. But I have no doubt that crazy people are paranoid, convinced that others are plotting to harm them. Crazy people start building backyard bunkers or panic rooms. They collect guns, ammo and bombs because they think they need them to protect themselves from imagined threats. Crazy people make wild threats and accusations, sometimes as a last-minute plea for help.
You can see where this is going. It’s a chilling idea, allowing a government agency to look at us under a microscope and determine whether we’re just interested in guns and blowing off a little steam, or whether we’re the next James Holmes.
And you realize of course that in every case where some crazy person went on a rampage, someone knew they were crazy and in most cases even knew they had guns. I don’t think that makes them complicit in all these massacres, it’s just that hard to believe anyone could be so sadistic and sick.
The worst part? Even marginally mentally ill people would avoid seeking out help knowing that they’re going to bring a world of hurt and restrictions down upon them.
So are you going to turn in your uncle? Your father? Your husband when he starts stocking up on shells? When he orders the Kevlar camo gear? When he hears the soothing suggestions of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh even when they’re not on the TV and radio? I doubt it. And I doubt that those who had a virtual nuclear meltdown over the wimpy gun laws recently passed in Colorado are going to be reasonable about determining who’s too mentally ill to have a gun, for how long, and how we can even hope to keep firearms out of their hands.
No, that kind of reason died in the movie theater across the street and in an elementary school classroom across the country last year.
Reach editor Dave Perry at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]