2012

1 August 2012: Have we seen enough mass shootings?

Have we seen enough mass shootings?

“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” – Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

Another terrorist attack.  This one not of the type generally associated with terrorism, but had the alleged killer been Islamic with every other circumstance the same, the media and rightist Americans would’ve  labeled it as such.

But the act was done allegedly by a young white, boy-next-door male.  So was the Oklahoma City bombing.  So was Columbine.  So was the attempted assassination of former congresswoman Gabby Giffords.  So was…fill in the blank.

We’ve gotten used to the routine:  Young white male has a cache of weapons and seemingly an unlimited supply of ammunition and acts on his impulses, his fear.  We feel sad, even helpless.  Outrage, reserved for the exceptionally abhorrent, is no longer expressed because the drill has become routine.

It’s the price we pay for “personal liberty.”   The NRA has convinced the nation of it.  “Guns don’t kill people,” is their mantra.  “People do.”

So, pretend you’re pointing a gun with your thumb and finger and say, “Bang!  You’re dead.”

As little kids we used to do that.  No one died.  Take a Glock, uzi, or some other semi-automatic assault weapon with clips that can kill hundreds of people within seconds, pull the trigger, and don’t say, “Bang!”  People die.

Physics has a way of making that happen.  Anger directed at the alleged shooter will not cause him to die.  But anger or a psychosis of some sort in a shooter mixed with weapons of mass destruction the NRA claims is every American’s right to possess—in fact, ought to—is a lethal combination.

President Obama and Gov. Hickenlooper blew it.  They uttered the right words to express personal outrage and empathy but managed to stay clear of the NRA’s gun sight.  They want to be re-elected and have learned that proposing any sort of controls on either weaponry or ammunition is a killer politically.  Suicide, actually.

Weak.  Cowardly.

Ironically, one voice of reason came from a least-expected source: neo-conservative Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard.

“People have a right to handguns and hunting rifles,” Kristol said on Fox News Sunday. “I don’t think they have a right to semi-automatic, quasi-machine guns that can shoot hundred bullets at a time.

“And I actually think the Democrats are being foolish as they are being cowardly. I think there is more support for some moderate forms of gun control.

For once I agree with Kristol about my fellow Democratic leaders.  On this issue, they’re in lock-step with their Republican counterparts:  Fear of the NRA.

It’s time for the no-gun-control crowd to answer questions:

  • Are there any limits whatsoever to the right to bear arms?  If so, be specific.
  • Would a rocket launcher count as an arm with a right to be borne?  If not, why not?
  • How about an attack helicopter?
  • What about ammunition supply: Are there limits to rounds one can own?  Carry?
  • How about magazine clips: Why is it necessary to be able to shoot off 100 rounds in seconds?  Is that really a sport?   Seriously.

While a couple of the above questions might seem absurd, they nonetheless can serve to focus the debate.

As Justice Holmes proclaimed, there are limits to free speech.  One does not have the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, although he meant “fire” in context of a blaze.  Reflect on the irony of his use of that metaphor in context of the mass murder in the Aurora theater.  My bet is that Holmes would shudder.

One wonders what would’ve happened if someone in the theater had a gun, therefore in a position to stop the executioner dead in his tracks.  Would/should have he/she used it?  It’s no small matter the theater was dark which was compounded by the smoke and gas the shooter opened with.

My bet again is that more than a dozen would’ve died in the crossfire.

Yes, guns kill; they deprive both animals and people of their right to life.  That’s their purpose.  If not, why have them?

The larger question for us as a society: Have we seen enough?  Or are we willing to continue to say, “Mass shootings are the price we pay for personal liberty?”

Next week: the psychological and sociological aspects and implications of this tragedy.

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