Reading Los Angeles: Join The Times' new book club
Opinion Top of the Ticket

Despite Colorado theater massacre, a discussion of guns is off limits

James Holmes, the alleged shooter in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre, was lucky to be living in the U.S.A. People who want to kill people find guns are very handy and, thanks to America's gun lobby, they can buy them easily in this country, along with all the ammunition needed to get the job done.

If the alleged gunman had been living in Norway, a place with much stricter gun regulations, he would have had to work harder to amass an arsenal. Still, there is the inconvenient fact for liberals that Norway's tougher laws did not deter right-wing racist Anders Breivik from gunning down 69 young people at a leftist youth camp last summer.

So, as much as I am variously amused and appalled by paranoid gun enthusiasts who see black helicopters and totalitarian oppression in even the most modest efforts to regulate guns and ammo, they are probably right to argue that tough gun laws will not stop these aberrant killings that emerge from a darkness no one can penetrate. As former FBI agent Peter Ahearn said to the Associated Press, "There's no way you can prevent it. There's absolutely no way."

Authorities have indicated that Holmes gave no clue to anyone about what he was planning. When he bought his guns and ammunition, a background check would have indicated that he had no criminal record, no history of mental illness. He may have been socially awkward, but he was not a weirdo outcast. Until very recently, he was a reasonably successful student on course to a graduate degree. Yes, his academic career suddenly stalled, but dropping out of grad school does not raise suspicions that a person is planning a horrific slaughter.

"It was random; it happened," Ahearn said. “There was nothing that could have prevented that unless someone saw him loading his car with guns."

Sure, an assault weapons ban might have kept the gunman from procuring an assault rifle, and some limit on buying ammunition online might have restricted his capacity to kill. But there is really no combination of laws and regulations that can prevent these outliers in our communities from going off the rails and finding a way to kill innocent people. That is the dismal truth.

Yet, though there may be no defense against the terror of the killer who comes out of nowhere, that does not mean that, as some conservatives are arguing, "this is not the time to have a discussion about guns." After all, many gun-rights supporters say there is an answer to random killers and that is to arm everybody. If someone in that Aurora theater crowd had been packing a weapon, they argue, that person might have stopped the gunman (that is, if the full body armor the shooter was wearing had somehow failed to work).

So, let's talk about it. Let's look at how many times crimes have been prevented by honest citizens bearing arms. Let's also consider the statistics that show deaths caused by guns, including suicides, are more common in regions of the country where gun laws are the most lax. Let's have a reasoned discussion that acknowledges the right to bear arms and also recognizes that every one of our liberties has a limit. Let's try to craft sensible gun regulations that promote public safety in circumstances we can predict, even if they cannot stop the unpredictable, random horror of a gunman who has slipped past the boundaries of civilized life.

Why do conservatives not want to have that discussion now? I'll tell you why: Because they have let the most extreme elements of the gun-rights community dictate gun policy for the entire country and now they are afraid to cross them. For conservatives, this is not the time for a discussion about guns because, no matter how much blood is spilled, even in preventable circumstances, it is a discussion they never plan to have.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Mitt Romney's secrets are not all in his tax returns
    Mitt Romney's secrets are not all in his tax returns

    Mitt Romney’s income tax returns may contain some surprises that he does not want the world to know about, but they are hardly his only secrets. His biggest secret, the question he has not answered through the entire campaign, the one that bothers conservatives even more than it irks liberals,...

  • Hot weather, ornery cows and an inane presidential campaign
    Hot weather, ornery cows and an inane presidential campaign

    Reporting from Havre, Mont. – At the end of a scorching 100-degree day last week, I sat in a circle of horsemen in a camp near Beaver Creek in the Bear Paw Mountains. Perched at a picnic table across from me, rancher Larry Kinsella was relating a story about the vicissitudes of ranching life.

  • No more tiers? San Juan Capistrano ruling need not end structured water rates
    No more tiers? San Juan Capistrano ruling need not end structured water rates

    Monday's state appeals court ruling striking down one city’s tiered water rates could, in a worst-case scenario, mean the eventual collapse of all similar rate structures in California, and with them the collapse of the most proven and effective way of getting people to conserve water through the...

  • Fast-track makes sense
    Fast-track makes sense

    As U.S. negotiators try to wrap up a major trade deal with 11 other countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, they find themselves in a Catch-22: Their trading partners say they won't conclude a deal unless Congress agrees to approve or reject it promptly without amendments, but many lawmakers want...

  • Vote, and win $25,000: It's a losing idea
    Vote, and win $25,000: It's a losing idea

    Frustrated by the appallingly low turnout in local elections, the nonprofit Southwest Voter Registration Education Project is planning a cash lottery — or voteria — to get voters to the polls for the Los Angeles Board of Education District 5 race. Anyone who legitimately casts a ballot in the May...

  • What's my work schedule? Employees deserve an earlier answer
    What's my work schedule? Employees deserve an earlier answer

    Over the last few years, many large employers of part-time workers — such as retailers and restaurant chains — have adopted what's known as "just in time" scheduling, which gives workers little or no notice of what days they'll be working. In some cases, workers show up as scheduled, only to be...