Somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,744 people died in the United States Thursday. Because of modern media, though, the only ones who mattered were the 12 who died in Aurora, Colo., in a horrific movie theater shooting.
It’s been barely more than 24 hours since the senseless killings, but I’ve seen serious stupidity and recklessness from many people. The truth is that the killer is a blank slate to almost all of us. We don’t know his motives. Any attempts to explain why it happened are simply a matter of us imposing our biases onto something we’re ignorant about. And look at the ignorance we’ve heard so far.
ABC News reported Friday morning that the shooter might be a member of a Colorado Tea Party group. Why? Because the murderer’s name is James Holmes and there’s a Jim Holmes in Aurora who’s a member of a Tea Party group. Making that allegation with absolutely no evidence — other than similarity in names — is some of the worst journalism I’ve seen in a long time. I’d say it represents the mindset of some journalists who want to believe that Tea Party types are violent people who might erupt at any moment.
Conspiracy nutcase Alex Jones is reporting that the shooting is a staged psychological operation by the U.S. government (video) to gain support for a new UN treaty related to the sale of weapons. In the description of his Friday show, the promo says that Jones “breaks down how it will be used to push through ratification of the United Nations’ gun-grabber treaty in the Senate and also manufacture anti-Second Amendment hysteria in the corporate media.” It’s hard to take Jones seriously, but a lot of people who don’t look at his track record of failed predictions keep listening to him. (It’s not just Jones making the claim. Here’s another site that makes the claim with no rational reason.)
Many conservative blogs were reporting on Friday that Holmes is a member of the “black bloc” of Occupy Wall Street. (Here’s one random example of too many to list.) What’s their evidence that this is an attack from the political left? The short article at the blog link says, “Occupy Wall Street’s main website, OccupyWallStreet.org, has named Colorado Massacre Shooter James Holmes as an Occupy Black Bloc Member, which has been confirmed by Occupy Black Bloc researcher and expert private investigator Bill Warner.” Of course, the Occupy website said no such thing, and the “private investigator” was merely speculating. Evidence? Who needs evidence?
(And another insane conservative response to this came from a Texas Republican congressman who said it happened because of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” Yes, seriously. Someone said that.)
More people than I could possibly list have blamed the existence of legal weapons for the shootings. But those people either don’t know or don’t care that guns are used in self-defense hundreds of times a day. I’ve seen numbers as low as 108,000 uses for self-defense each year to 2.5 million per year. The larger figures are hard for me to believe, but even if we accept the low-end estimate (which came from the National Crime Victimization Survey in 1993), that’s still almost 300 defensive uses of weapons every day. (Harvard’s School of Public Health, which takes a hardline anti-gun view, disagrees, if you’re interested in their reasoning.)
We don’t know who James Holmes is and why he decided to shoot a bunch of people Thursday night. Is he crazy? Yeah, he sounds that way to me. Does he have a motivation that will fit nicely into the various narratives that different people have for him? I doubt it. We’ll have to wait and see.
Behind all the attempts to assign blame and concoct simple fixes is one simple thing. Most people don’t like admitting that there’s a little chance that they might randomly die through no fault of their own. They’re indulging in the fantasy that if they simply get anti-gun laws passed, they’ll suddenly be safe. (As my friend Tim Sanders mentioned Friday night, those European-style gun restrictions didn’t stop a lone nut from killing nearly a hundred people in Norway last year.)
It’s a tragedy that 12 people died and dozens more were injured. But simplistic measures such as new gun laws aren’t going to put an end to tragedies. People who want weapons will still find them, and people who are truly motivated to kill a lot of people can find ways to mix legal ingredients to do so. (A fertilizer bomb shouldn’t be too terribly difficult to put together, I assume.) The point is that evil people who want to do evil things are going to find a way to do it.
Unfortunately, some people are still obsessed with the fantasy of perfect safety. When I was in a restaurant Friday evening, I heard someone on a TV news channel bring up the issue of what theaters need to do now to protect their customers. (The short answer: Nothing. You can’t put people into a protective bubble all the time.)
Thousands of people in this country are going to die today. Thousands more will die Sunday and the day after that. It’s a tragedy every time it happens when there’s no reason, but it’s simply a part of life that we have to accept. There will always be evil people doing evil things. And some people will always die before they’re old and worn out. (Do we even need to discuss deaths from auto accidents and swimming pools?)
It’s a terrible thing that the people affected by the Aurora shootings have gone through. But making up facts to suit whatever agenda you already had is a lousy way to respond to it.
Sometimes bad things happen to people. It might be me or you one day. Random death is just as much a part of life as anything else, even if that’s hard to accept. Trying to assign blame and then change a country’s laws to keep up the pretense of complete safety is foolish.
Real life is about tradeoffs, not about the fantasy that we can be safe all the time.