- Life Style
The tragic shooting that took place in Aurora, Colorado may be one of the least politically significant mass murders of its kind in recent memory. James Holmes, a 24-year-old scientist, opened fire last Friday at a movie theatre killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. Mass shootings are not a novelty in America, but the Colorado tragedy should make us realize that two things are happening in the United States: the effort to restrict gun ownership rights is failing and society seems to be starting to come to grips with the sad reality that some tragedies can’t realistically be prevented.
States across America have increasingly allowed for liberal gun ownership laws. Politicians have not only removed restrictions on concealed weapons but actually encourage citizens to “pack heat.”
The single most absurd theory offered in explaining the shooting came from US Representative Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) who claimed that alleged “attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs” were somehow to blame for the shooting. He then wondered why no one in the theater had a weapon to stop the shooter. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg rightfully dismissed Gohmert’s remarks as “nonsensical.”
Bloomberg has called on both presidential candidates, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, to make clear how they would prevent incidents like this in the future and where they stand on gun control. Bloomberg is a well-known advocate of strict gun control, of which New York has some of the strictest in the country. Realistically, however, neither candidate is likely to say much to satisfy Bloomberg or those who agree that gun control is the solution. Romney is openly supportive of expansive gun ownership rights and Obama himself has only increased them during his first term as president. To be fair to the candidates, more gun control may not be the solution. The vast majority of gun-related crimes that take place in the United States involve illegally owned weapons.
Holmes, the shooter in Aurora, acquired his weapons legally but it was highly unlikely he would have been prevented from doing so even with strict gun laws. The longest waiting period for purchasing a gun in the country is 14 days. Holmes started purchasing his weapons two months before the shooting. He had no criminal record beyond a speeding ticket and so a background check would not have prevented him from acquiring guns. Without banning gun ownership outright (which would require an unlikely constitutional amendment), someone with Holmes’ profile would always be able to purchase a gun.
Moreover, someone like Holmes, a PhD candidate in neuroscience, would certainly have been able to come up with another way to kill a large number of people, as evidenced by the extensive explosives found in his home. There are few, if any, plausible ways that one could have prevented this tragedy.
There are risks involved with living in a free society. A fair judicial process that places evidence and justice above revenge and repression will at times release guilty criminals to be sure that the state does not wrongfully imprison the innocent. Unless every step we take is to be met with a metal detector, body scanner and X-Ray machine there must be a degree of risk. There are a million places in the US and almost any other country that are vulnerable to the random violence of a malicious individual and it is next to impossible to change that reality.
It seems that Americans are starting to experience security fatigue. The wide array of security measures they’re asked to comply with seem to have gotten out of hand and continue to be less effective than we would hope. Security checks always seem to be a step or two behind developing threats and have become increasingly costly, exhausting, irritating and ineffective. Today, in order to fly, you have to choose between a security agent staring at an image of your unclothed body or allowing one to aggressively grope you in your most private areas.
At some point we have to have a serious conversation about how we can realistically balance risk with living in a free society. In the past decade the US has increasingly sacrificed freedom without gaining a solid sense of security. Clearly the balance is off and needs to be reevaluated. Unfortunately none of this will prevent the next Aurora; perhaps nothing will.
Timothy Kaldas is a photographer and writer based in Cairo.