The preference for a lot of people today in discussing The Dark Knight Rises, one of the most hotly awaited movies of the year, should have been whether or not it's a good movie on it's own or whether it falls short of the rather high water mark of Christopher Nolan's last Batman film, The Dark Knight. Instead, a real life madman barged into a midnight screening of Rises in Aurora, CO, set off tear gas and proceeded to shoot over 70 people, killing 12, with the small arsenal he brought with him. It's now the worst mass shooting in American history.
Aside from the visceral anger towards the perpetrator, and the outpouring of sympathy for the victims and family members, there are a number of questions persisting this evening. Here are a few:
Did it have something to do with the movie?
Probably not. Aside from the fact that a midnight showing of a highly anticipated, sure-to-be blockbuster is assuredly going to be packed with innocent people, I think the fact that it was as a screening of The Dark Knight Rises that was attacked has as much to do with the perpetrator's motive as the music of Marilyn Manson had behind Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's attack on Columbine High School in 1999. The thematic tableau however can't be ignored; a theatre showing a movie about a masked man that terrorizes a city full or people becomes a place where a masked man terrorizes a cinema full of people. The fact is it only serves to fill the personal gratification of the gunman. Shooting people at a popular movie is all about prestige, it's not about a statement.
Should the gun control lobby politicize this or not?
They should. If you're invested in seeing more gun control in the United States then let's admit facts: nobody in elected government or running for election is interested in representing you. If these incidents can't foster a discussion about the whys and hows anybody can get a bunch of guns and a thousand rounds of ammunition legally and without question, then nothing will. The reason that there's never any discussion, the reason why no pressure is ever applied is because when a shooting like this happens, the immediate reaction by the majority is to say, "Don't politicize this event." But then nothing ever happens. The news cycle moves on and it's too late to "politicize" anything. So you know what? Politicize it. Why? Because if James Holmes was a state agent for Syria, Iran, or North Korea - and if his name wasn't James Holmes - the question wouldn't be if war planes would be sent overseas to retaliate, but how many? Why shouldn't the same be said about guns? The question shouldn't be when are we going to talk about gun control, but where the new line will drawn.
But in the end, does gun control work?
One could make an argument that it does not, look at recent events in Toronto. There have been several shootings in Toronto this past week, including one at a neighbourhood party that killed two on Monday night. The rather simplistic view says that gun crime is prevalent no matter where you live or how many gun laws you have. On the other hand there's cause to suggest that the rather lax gun access in the United States means easier access for those that want a gun in Canada and Mexico. Of course, nothing will stop truly bad people who want a gun from getting a gun, look at the case of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo last year as an example of that. And while gun crimes where in one, or two, or maybe even three people are killed in one incident are commonplace anywhere, there seems to be something of a trend in the U.S.with the frequency of these kind of mass shootings. There was an incident last July in Grand Rapids, MI where a gunman killed seven before taking his own life, 73-year-old Carey Hal Dyess killed six out of seven people shot last June in Yuma, AZ, and who could forget the January 2011 shooting east of Yuma in Tuscon, where U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was one of 19 people shot by suspect Jared Lee Loughnerin, an incident in which six were killed. There were about seven mass murders in the United States last year, and one in Norway, and if you have to wonder what the difference is, maybe it's the fact that its easier to get your hands on a gun in America.
What about concealed weapons, wouldn't that "even the scales?"
One of the great arguments in favour of laws to allow people to carry guns in public, and carry them covertly, is just this type of situation. The presumption is that madmen with guns will be dissuaded from their deadly purpose if there's a chance that their potential targets may be armed. Slate's David Weigel tested that theory here, but the expert he consulted has experience, training and hindsight on his side. Even at that, firearms safety trainer Greg Block spins a scenario that would seem not out of place in a Chuck Norris movie. The thing of it is that Colorado is already a conceal carry state, meaning that it's perfectly legal to walk around with a gun concealed on your person. Except that movie theatres in Colorado are "gun free zones," like college campuses in Virginia. Can you imagine living somewhere there's designated areas where no one's supposed to carry a gun? I think this is where the romanticism of the Old West goes off the rails as a lot of American think they're Wild Bill Hickok or Calamity Jane Canary, except those characters are equal parts legends as they are historical figures. Not to mention the fact that a 2009 study found that people who carried guns were 4.5 times as likely to be shot and 4.2 times as likely to get killed compared with unarmed citizens. In other terms, in the words of DMX, Don't start nothing, it won't be nothing.
So now what?
I hardly think this incident is going to stop anyone from seeing The Dark Knight Rises this weekend, nor should it. Neither Obama nor Romney will bother to try and politicize it, and those few who advocate gun control will quickly be silenced. Why? Because of these numbers:
- Winchester’s sales of ammunition have gone from $431.7 million to $572 million, an increase of 33%
- Federal excise taxes collected on the sale of new firearms and ammunition has risen 48.3%
- January 2012 was the 20th straight month of increases in NICS background checks compared to the same month in the previous year
- December 2011 saw over 1.41 million NICS background checks run, the most ever for a single month
- The few states which regularly report concealed carry permit numbers have seen increases in active permit holders ranging from 46 per cent to 161 per cent
Since the beginning of Obama's presidency, the number of guns purchased has gone up, and up, and up. Along with that is the erroneous fear that the Obama administration is about to, or has been pursuing, an agenda of heavy gun control when the fact is that no one in his administration has made any such push. Even the Tea Party has trouble finding genuine evidence to back up an anti-gun agenda from Obama. The NRA, despite its relative small size as a lobbying firm, still holds tremendous power, and there are a lot of moderate Democrats representing districts for whom a stance for gun control could make or break their election. In other words, you can't win on being anti-gun, so it's better to say nothing at all. Like the President.
But if there is a change to make, it is up to The President. I can't imagine Obama enjoys having to console these families, these victims, and how many more will he have to meet with before he finally says politics be damned. After all, the thing that all these people are afraid of is having their guns taken away, and their already afraid of it despite the fact that no real threat exists. So answer that threat. Go for the guns. They already think you are anyway.
And if all else fails, I suppose there's always bullet control: