Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight (and fear) Rises

Yesterday afternoon, I was informed of the tragic shooting at the premier of the latest in the Dark Knight series of films in Aurora, Colorado. My fiancee, shocked that I wasn't aware of the situation, presented me with a challenge: to go see the movie.
"People are afraid to go". she said. "That's stupid. We should go in their memory".

 I am going to be frank here when I say that at that moment, I was beaming ear to ear with pride in my wife-to-be. "Yeah," I responded, "Let's not let fear win."

 Now as we all know, she and I differ on what is probably the largest divisive topic of debate between us: Gun Control. She is pro, I am (mostly) against. Now this doesn't make me right, her wrong or vice-versa. We just have different individual views and respect for the other. That is what makes America great, right?

 However, last night and this morning had a different twist than I would have expected. Instead of appropriating blame or talking about our individual beliefs, we instead talked about the mind of the killer. This was a refreshing pace, not only due to the fact that the last few weeks have been rather tense due to outside influences, but that this is what I always loved about being around her.

 We talked about the killer's motives. We tried to figure out what we could about his psychological makeup given what limited information we had due to the general grain of salt you have to take regarding any early news reports these days. We concluded that this man was not a sane individual and that he definitely had gone above and beyond the average "rampage" shooter.

 Folks, this whole situation is unfortunate. There is no other word for it except "tragedy".

Now, being a young journalist, I strive to get both sides of the story. I checked with the two most extremist groups I could think of when it comes to gun control: The Brady Campaign and the NRA. The NRA's statement was the a-typical apologies and the Brady Campaign found no shortage to fire up the emotion train on this one (however, given their goals, who can blame them?)
However, common sense dictates that when you want to see how opposing camps feel, it is better to get the opinions of the individual members of organizations rather than the organization itself.

 The NRA members did what was expected of them: they got defensive, some in the worst way. Instead of focusing on the issue, they began the counter-blame game: everything from Obama to The Brady Campaign, spouting off about how the end is near. The Brady folks also had their share of accusations from legal firearms ownership to how the NRA was to blame all the way down to screaming about making ammunition too expensive to buy and claiming the end had already come. It was two sides of the same extremist coin and I can't help but wonder if they really know how similar they are.

So I asked a simple question- in person via email with colleagues and even on the Brady Campaign Facebook (which was promptly deleted, by the way- so much for free speech):

"Why didn't anyone shoot back?"

This might come across as a disrespectful question (believe me, there was backlash within seconds), but it was a genuine and respectful inquiry. Why didn't anyone shoot back? 

 Since 2003, the state of Colorado alone has issued over 130,000 conceal carry permits for law-abiding handgun owners who passed multiple background checks as well as classroom and range-qualification. The odds of someone carrying a concealed handgun (legally) is slim, but not that slim. 

 Here in Tennessee, I expected some sort of crazy "retroactively reactive" at the local theater here in the mall. You know, police everywhere, pat-downs of suspicious individuals, the works. However, I was surprised to find not cops, but Stormtroopers:
Due to the nature of one individual's profession, I have omitted a face.

Observe Exhibits A-D:
Ex A and B: two trustworthy, law-abiding people that I know personally (who just happen to be duking it out in this photo)
Ex C: Stormtrooper
Ex: D a loaded, semi-automatic pistol.

 Remember, this was taken at a mall, and there are small children, families and even a mall security guard in the background (armed with.. good intentions). Nobody is panicking, nobody is on a rampage and SWAT is not going through the door with a flash-bang grenade and submachine guns.

 This is a fairly common sight here. In fact, had I not pointed it out, you probably would not have noticed. This well-built, tattooed man is a decorated combat-wounded veteran, yet he would be the first person someone would imagine to go on a rampage. He has no felonies, no DUIs, no assault charges. He can't, otherwise he would lose his right to carry.

He wasn't the only armed individual in the mall that day. Many came out, some undoubtedly with his idea of showing that the average citizen would not stand for aggression of the illegal nature. I can guarantee you there were at least two weapons in the mall this evening and I am okay with that.

The Colorado shooter, James Holmes, was not a disgruntled individual. He legally purchased those firearms, that much is true. As effective as the FBI's NICS background check system is at preventing the legal transfer of firearms into the hands of felons or other unsavory individuals, a few fish will always make their way through the nets. Banning firearms or ammunition wouldn't have stopped Holmes: he is a deranged psychopath who was determined to carry this plan out in advance and would have obtained those weapons and the ammunition for his rampage, no matter what. The guy even made homemade flash-bangs and wired his apartment with IEDs that would have killed anyone who went inside. There was no getting around this guy. People knew he was deranged: his own mother wasn't all that surprised he carried it out. 

 In light of any tragedy, I can't help but notice the first thing to happen is the inevitable blame game. Who's fault is it? What can we do to stop it? 

 Now personally, I don't like the 100 round drums for rifles. However, of all the drums purchased, less than 1%  of those drums have ever been used in a massacre or crime and those with innocent intent are free to purchase them. Not that it would have mattered. Had it been a 5, 20 or 30 round magazine, it only takes a second to reload. Even a non semi-automatic rifle or handgun can be reloaded efficiently with practice. This guy was going to go through with this, even if he had to use a knife, a rock and a homemade bomb. Ironically, the incident occurred in a "Gun-Free Zone", where most mass-shootings occur. Not that he didn't expect opposition, the man wore body armor. However, I can speak firsthand from experience, that body armor does not make you bulletproof.

 Suzanna Hupp, a victim of the 1991 Luby's Cafeteria Massacre and former Texas House of Representatives Member, said it best: armed citizens could have stopped this before it escalated to the toll it reached. Sure, they could have made the situation worse (I've come to terms with the fact that in protecting myself or my loved ones, I may be shot by Police, who by the way on a national average only hit 1/3 of what they shoot at), but it surely would have evened the odds.

 Now all conspiracies aside (not even 48 hours, and I've heard everything from religion, to the joker, to the UN Small Arms treaty and Obama's re-election), I would say the best thing we Americans can do right now is not be afraid. This man obviously wanted to strike fear in the hearts of people. Let's not give him that. If you wanted to see the movie, go see it. It was amazing and very relevant to current events. Don't give into the fear, don't give into the hysteria. By all means, If you don't believe in guns, then keep calm and carry on. If you do, keep calm and carry one. This is a country of citizens, free to make decisions about their own lives and live with them (for now), but I digress. So in the words of an infinitely awesome man:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” ― Theodore Roosevelt