Charles Whitman in 1966, Edward Charles Allaway in 1976, James Oliver Huberty in 1984, Pat Sherrill in 1986, James Edward Pough in 1990, George Hennard in 1991, Columbine in 1999, Virginia Tech in 2007, Michael McLendon in 2009, Maj. Nidal Hasan in 2009, Jared Lee Loughner in 2011. Americans are experts when it comes to shooting tragedies such as the one that occurred Friday night in a Colorado movie theater. We know exactly how the events will unfold following the horrific shooting that killed 12 people and injured 58 others.
There will be candlelight vigils and memorial services. The county sheriff will address the media a few times. The president travels to meet with the families of the victims. The shooter’s profile along with journals, letters, videos, blogs, or tweets, and the details of his upbringing will surface. There will be calls not to politicize the tragedy and then the debate over gun laws will resurface. It will be begin thoughtfully and then spiral out of control until it’s nothing but rhetoric and hyperbole. Somebody will say something insensitive on Twitter and other Twitter users will jump all over it. Some unfortunate guy with the same name as the shooter will be harassed on Facebook.
When Americans think of gun violence, we tend to think about gangs, inner city crime, and weapons bought illegally behind the little market on the ghetto street corner. James Eagen Holmes is white and grew up in an upper-middle class community. His mother was a nurse and his father a mathematician. Holmes graduated college with honors in neuroscience. According to police, Holmes used AR 15 assault rifle, a Remington shotgun, and a 40-caliber Glock handgun when he opened fire in the Aurora theater during the premier of the Batman movie Dark Knight Rises. He wore black bullet-proof gear, including helmet, vest, leggings and a groin and throat protector as well as a gas mask, goggles and black gloves. He threw tear gas into the crowd. The weapons and bullet-proof gear were legally obtained by a person with no criminal record who turned out to be a highly intelligent lone-wolf terrorist with a booby-trapped apartment.
Americans will wring their hands and ask why and how this could happen and mourn and pray. Then it will be over and it will be back to business as usual until the next massacre. And while these mass shootings are dramatic, they don’t say much about daily gun violence, which gets little attention from the media perhaps because it’s just so routine.
Sadly, the Colorado shootings, like massacres before it and daily firearm violence, will not likely spur changes in American gun laws. Pundits will note various reasons for this such as the powerful gun lobby, the association of guns and America’s heritage, the belief that Americans are generally responsible with respect to firearms handling, and the belief that guns provide some level of protection against criminality and tyranny. But the elephant in the room is this: my (misguided belief about my) Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is more important than your life and the lives of your children.
I’ve written before that Australia has an ethos of “mateship”. It’s no surprise then to learn that Australia has some of the most restrictive firearms legislation in the world. Only about 5% of Australian adults own and use firearms compared to 47% of Americans. There were 13 mass shootings in Australia between 1979 and 1996 until the Port Arthur massacre transformed gun legislation. There hasn’t been a shooting massacre in the 16 years since. The rate of suicide and homicide dropped too.
Americans are fiercely individualistic. They will not support stricter gun laws to protect the community if it means giving up the right or privilege to buy a firearm that you might need that to kill the person trying to steal your television set or that suspicious black kid with the hoodie “just walking around, looking about”.
The Colorado shootings, like those before it, are a tragedy, but the bigger tragedy is that this will happen again. And again. And again.
What will it take for Americans to wake up to gun violence?