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

The NRA cares about guns, not Colorado massacre victims
(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

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.