Thursday night’s shooting in a theatre in Aurora, Colorado mall is the latest death by gunfire in a nation that’s becoming an increasingly freewheeling vigilante territory of individual “freedom.”
Around 12:30 A.M. a gunman wearing a gas mask and combat garb stood in the front of the screen and began firing at the crowd. According to witnesses, either pepper spray or tear gas was sprayed out into the crowd followed by the lethal gunfire. We’re told that within 90 seconds a cadre of several ambulances and police rushed to a frenzied scene at the Century 16 movie complex showing the Batman series premier of “The Dark Knight Rises”. Next, a police robot that might have been spawned by H.G. Wells meticulously inspected a white sedan in the parking lot, not with Wellsian death rays but, rather, for their source.
When the dust, noise, hysteria and spray settled it was clear that what had happened was in fact reality and certainly not the fiction of Bill Finger or even H.G. Wells. Official reports indicate that at lease1 two people have been killed and as many as 58 others injured.
So in the latest deadly armed assault on American soil we have 24 year-old James Eagan Holmes entering a theatre in full riot gear, armed and opening fire about 25 minutes into the film in theater number 9 at the Century 16 in Aurora, Colorado. Aurora Police Chief James Oates has reported that an AR-15 assault rifle, Remington 870, 12-gauge shotgun, and .40-caliber Glock handgun were found in Holmes’ car and a second Glock was found in the theater, saying that, “…many, many rounds” were fired.
Among the 12 victims was 6 year-old Veronica Moser. Before dying, she drifted in and out of consciousness in a local ICU with a bullet lodged in her throat and a gunshot wound to her abdomen. Veronica’s 25 year-old mother, Ashley, kept calling for her 6-year-old daughter Veronica while Ashley herself was treated. As reported by Gillian Flaccus and Kristen Wyatt, “Nobody had the heart to tell the 25-year-old mother that Veronica was already dead, the youngest victim killed at a Colorado movie theater in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history”. Flaccus and Wyatt further write, "All she's asking about, of course, is her daughter". Ashley’s aunt, Annie Dalton, said that Veronica was “a vibrant 6-year-old. She was excited, she'd just learned how to swim. She was a great little girl, excited about life – she should be at 6 years old”.
As I have written before, high capacity magazines like the ones allegedly used by Holmes dramatically boost a weapon’s firing power. They were prohibited from 1994 until 2004 by the federal assault weapons ban. That law placed a prohibition on the sale of 19 different types of military style semi-automatic assault weapons and high capacity magazines until 2004 when Congress failed to renew the law. Readers can follow that link for a brief historical review of incidents and related statistics.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) was enacted on October 22, 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson. It’s a federal law regulating the firearms industry and firearms owners and administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It focuses on regulating interstate commerce in firearms by prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers. Thanks to GCA, foreign made assault rifles and machine guns such as the AK-47, the FN FAL or the Heckler & Koch MP5 can no longer be imported into the United States for civilian ownership. However, semi-automatic models of the same weapons are still permitted.
Since the lapse of the 1994 ban, high-capacity magazines have become commonplace in gun and sporting goods stores despite having any remote sporting or civilian value. Several legislative proposals have been introduced since 2004 to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and paraphernalia but have not gained sufficient votes. Last year’s Tucson shooting was less than a year after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer made her state one of three in the nation to allow citizens over the age of 21 to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
To be sure, we cannot prevent every weapon related crime. But in the very least, we need to reinstate the laws that helped keep assault weapons out of the hands of would-be criminals. Laws will not always prevent illegal acts but they at least give us a way to prosecute them and provide a means of restitution to the tenuous extent that there is a repayment for murder.
Other attempts have been made to close the gaps in gun regulations. Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York has proposed a ban on the weapons themselves but also understands the political realities. She sponsored the Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2007. It was a bill that would have ultimately reenacted the ban on assault weapons by the Clinton Administration in 1994 but the bill failed in committee.
We all know that unbridled gun ownership has its supporters.
The NRA has recently announced that, “There are well over 250 million privately-owned firearms in the U.S., including nearly 100 million handguns and tens of millions of “assault weapons In 2008, there were more than 337,000 new AR-15s configured for home defense, competition, training, recreational target practice and hunting.”
Fine. It’s not about how many weapons have not been used in crimes. I don’t know anyone who uses one of those 337,000 AR-15s for “home defense, competition, training, recreational target practice and hunting,” and I certainly don’t want to.
According to the Brady Center, almost 100,000 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, accidents, or by police intervention annually. Three thousand sixty two are children. A simple international comparison can provide perspective on America’s culture of gun violence. Together, Japan, Germany, England, Wales and Canada are home to 305 million people. Guns kill about 450 people in those countries in an average year. By contrast, the United States, home to over 300 million people, witnesses an average of 9,500 gun murders in one year. About 5,900 American troops have died in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past 10 years.
The word absolutism can been used to describe the NRA’s position on legislation and even discussions that approach the idea of reform gun laws to limit the circulation of assault weapons, related paraphernalia or accessibility to them. Their claim has been consistent, saying that any compromise will only lead to further concessions that they’re unwilling to make. Their refusal to compromise negates any right to gun ownership.
In a reaffirmation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, on June 26, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held that American citizens have an individual right to own guns in District of Columbia v. Heller . In that case the Court stated that an absolute firearm ban was unconstitutional. The Court further determined that its decision in Heller does not impinge upon all existing statutes and regulations, such as those that prohibit felons and the mentally ill from owning or possessing firearms.
Certainly, existing laws and their current implementation need to be examined and improved to guard the public against the possibility of dangerous individuals from purchasing guns and any lethal weapons. This can be done without threatening the integrity of the 2nd Amendment.
But beyond the statistics and details of individual incidents including this latest tragedy in Colorado, I want to issue a call to arms for our elected leaders but especially to those who so vehemently claim the right to bear arms.
Gun violence can and must be prevented.
If there is a silver lining in this profoundly sad event it’s a wake-up call and opportunity for both sides of the gun debate to revisit sensible gun regulation without losing face. It’s an opportunity, and indeed, a responsibility for gun proponents to stand their ground. They need to own up to the responsibility that their so-called freedom to bear arms requires.
I personally call on Wayne La Pierre to straighten his spine a little. I ask him and his constituents in the NRA to show a little citizenship and respect for the American people and their social contract to look out for one another. We’re not interested, Mr. La Pierre, in the bogus claim that we need an AR-15 automatic weapon or 100 round capacity magazine to protect us from an overreaching government or cat burglar caught in the act of robbing our home. And we certainly don’t need to hear that any revisiting of gun control, no matter how slight, is a direct affront to the rights of gun owners. Mano-a-mano, I ask you put down your guns long enough to hear our call to disarm America of its deadly assault weapons.
Any gun owner worth his or her weight in lead will have the courage and presence of mind to back up their personal freedom with the responsibility that comes with that freedom. It’s a responsibility that says that in the wake of the latest tragedy like the one still fresh in our minds, gun owners worthy of the title of ownership will share in our common obligation to compromise. They need to compromise when it means that gun ownership does not automatically entitle one to own an assault weapon and certainly not several. It means that compromise will give in to the reality that gun proponents are not automatically entitled to multiple purchases or the ownership of an AK-47. In civilized America we compromise.
I call on David Nason Frizzell, Chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC), to stand your ground if you want the respect of the American people and our state legislatures. I ask you to help us to prevent future gun violence. You can begin by taking steps to rescind the Stand Your Ground Laws which led to the killing of Trayvon Martin earlier this year in Florida. Part of deserving to “stand your ground,” Mr. Frizzell, is earning our respect. You can do that by showing us that you are a legitimately and defensibly reasonable person. Earn your chairmanship Mr. Frizzell, by showing us that you have the interest of the American people at heart. You obviously have an enormous influence on state legislatures. Use that leadership and this unique opportunity to help us prevent further tragedy.
For his part, New York Mayor and member of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), Michael Bloomberg has issued a renewed call for our elected officials to take action. MAIG Group Chairman Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino states, “The fixes are easy and they are common sense. It's about enforcing existing Federal laws and making sure we don't let criminals buy weapons. We need to put a background check on all sales and require states to step up their reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to make sure we have a check that works.
Gun violence can be prevented.
Never mind the statistics. Our collective response will be based on a profound philosophical issue that cuts to the very foundation of our nation. Our society is not based on individual absolutism. We may be a republic of individuals but we’re in that republic together which necessitates a social contract as enacted through the constitutionally based democratic rule. Our nation and our society can and must make a choice about the kind of country we want to live in. Do we choose to live in a nonviolent society? If we cannot make that choice and act on it we don’t deserve our legacy of independence inherited from an American Revolution that claimed independence from tyranny. An inability to stop gun violence in America would be an acceptance of tyranny imposed by a gun lobby that refuses to be a part of the solution.
This is a call to arms, a call that requires our leaders and all Americans to decide whether frequent gun violence is simply beyond our control or whether we can still call on the courage and the resolve that once transformed a colony into a great nation because we refused to accept the (violent) status quo.