In an Aurora, Colorado, theatre on Thursday night, James Holmes broke into a midnight release of The Dark Knight Rises, filling theatre with bullets and gas bombs. Fifty-eight people were injured, twelve killed, including a six year old girl. Some reports claim that the AR-15 Holmes employed jammed; if true, this would suggest that the death toll could have been much higher. His gun, due to upgrades he himself attached, could hold over 100 bullets.
Holmes seems to be a sick man by all accounts. He was a twenty-four-year-old graduate student. Descriptions of him have varied from highly intelligent to introvert. Police investigation thus far suggests that he has been planning the attack for months. This might be the most troubling of the details we’ve been presented so far: someone who was engaging in society, who went to the market and to classes and probably met with friends and had drinks and texted girls also planned a whole-scale slaughter that could have resulted, had a gun not jammed, in hundreds of deaths.
His apartment was filled with explosive, his stereo set to go off at midnight. Perhaps he intended for police to knock on the door for a disturbance call, maybe force their way in, to add a few extra casualties long after he had been gunned down.
But, luckily, things worked out differently. Though the loss of life is tragic, it could have easily had been higher. His goal was accomplished, however, in its sick parallel to the second Batman movie’s villain, the Joker: he inspired chaos.
This is what we now know about the case. Sadly, there is not going to be any more answers. Like the school shootings in Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech, I have a solemn feeling that there is going to be no good answer for why such a tragedy befell Aurora. Maybe Holmes was bullied, maybe he was medically unstable. One thing remains indelibly clear: Holmes is insane, in either the medical definition or simply by the terms we’ve come to explain such things. That might be the best we come to.
I was disturbed to hear this news Friday morning. I was disheartened to see that, by ten a.m., many stories included loaded political angles into the discussion. One story implied that Romney’s support from the NRA would now be a liability, another questioned how President Obama’s usual reserved demeanor would affect his polling. It only took moments of shock for the journalism machine to churn the event into the political hay. As if the tragedy has no real resonance except for the repercussions in November.
Other reporters used this as a launch board to reopen the national debate over gun laws. Hotheads on both sides shouted each other down on the radio, insisting that conceal/carry laws would prevented this or that tighter gun regulations would have stopped Holmes. Some went so far as to blame Hollywood for the violence with which we are inundated on a daily basis. While times like this massacre are the instances when we need to take a serious look at the society we are creating, the answer will not be there, either.
Political policy exists in a vacuum. In this vacuum, conceal/carry laws leaves Holmes dead on the floor when he walks in the door. In this vacuum, 100% of the guns Holmes attempted to purchase are stopped by stronger gun regulations and he gives up, pays his taxes, and has 2.5 children. In this vacuum, Holmes never watches a violent movie and never even considers murder in a crowded theatre to be an option.
Political policy has a .000% failure rate in our discussions over the radio and in print. In real life, there is a .001% chaos rate we need to recognize. Sometimes, terrible things happen. And there may not have been a way to prevent them. Regardless of all the buzzwords, all the statistics we can pull out, reality proves time and again that some events are too nebulous to fit easily in our political philosophies.
Harder yet are reactions to the death of the six-year-old. No, she was not supposed be there. How many people have lambasted the parents on comment boards and personal conversations, maybe even to the parents themselves? And it is easy for us to say now how foolish it had been. But those parents will never wake up before their daughter’s death again and never go a day without questioning their actions.
People react violently to events like what happened in Colorado. Through their own viewpoints, the events make sense. The tragedy could have been mollified or prevented, had America only been a different place. But this is not the time for a soundboard about how our own views would have changed things, its a time to understand the events as they unfolded and not mar the memory of the victims by turning them into playthings of political policy. We should talk less because of this, not more and louder, more entrenched than ever.
Instead, we should internalize this event, its message about the chaos of the world, about the uncertainty of life, and specifically, the heroism. Three separate men, Jon Blunk, Alex Teves and Matt McQuinn attempting to protect their girlfriends, were among the twelve killed. Their respective girlfriends survived.
If there is a political message in that, it is that, short of some perfect formation of policy that prevents horrors like this, at least we have commendable citizens who can react righteously in an instant when facing months of evil intentions.