There are too many of them, by the way.
This week's installment of Nat's Notes was to be a lighthearted commentary on shopping. It's still sitting in my home computer, all but finished and ready to tweak. Given the massacre that happened in Aurora, Colo. Friday morning, however, my mind has been preoccupied with the tragedy and I just feel compelled to share my thoughts on mass shootings in general and this one in particular.
Mass shootings have become much too common in the United States. One tally, by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says the average is around 20 a year, and the Aurora incident is already the sixth this month. While the Brady Campaign's definition of mass shooting is rather broad and does not necessarily involve deaths or even injuries, these statistics do reflect just how violent and crazy things have become.
So I, like the rest of the country, wonder: Why are these gun fests happening? What tips these predominantly young male perpetrators over the edge and into becoming indiscriminate murderers in very public venues? What, pray tell, can we do to stop them?
More theoretical answers are offered to these questions than there are Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavors, which means no definitive answer, or solution, to the problem exists. While such incidents share common characteristics, each also has a unique set of circumstances that sets it apart from the rest.
Often times, the media reports surrounding these mass shootings after the fact indicate that there might have been warning signs that such a horrific act was imminent. Perhaps the gunman/men was preoccupied with violence, severely depressed, gave hints via social media, had anger issues and/or was out for revenge big time. Or maybe the guy was just plain weird.
If we locked up everyone who exhibited at least one of these behaviors or signs, the vast majority of America would be kept under wraps. An extremely small fraction of these people even become mass killers. Family, friends and acquaintances bemoan the fact that they did not recognize these signs and bring them to the attention of law enforcement. They feel guilty and take at least some of the blame for lives lost upon themselves.
Well, hindsight is 20/20, and even if they had called this person's odd behavior into question, who's to say anyone would or could do anything about it in the first place? The law supposedly protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as other intrusive actions. Agencies risk being sued for overstepping their bounds, with good reason. Unless the suspect has expressed outward threats, acted upon them or otherwise broken the law, the government's hands are tied.
Perhaps there are some steps we can take to at least make people feel safer from the threat of mass shooting, but in reality, it is impossible to ever fully prevent or predict such occurrences. Would better gun control laws help? Not likely. James Holmes, the 24-year-old who opened fire at the movie theater in Aurora had no problem legally obtaining his firearms because he had no criminal record or any other blot on his background, which is common with mass murderers. Even with tighter gun control, this guy would probably have passed the test with flying colors. If not, he'd have simply obtained guns illegally or stuck strictly with the explosives he used to supplement his massacre. Where there's a will, there's a way.
This doesn't change my thoughts on assault weapons, though. While people like Holmes might have no problem getting uzis and other powerful guns on the black market, there is absolutely no need for an average citizen to own one.
Tighter security where mass shootings could happen? Doubtful again. The Columbine shooting prompted schools across the country to install metal detectors and other surveillance/preventive equipment, yet similar massacres, including one in nearby Red Lake, have still managed to occur in educational settings. Post offices, court houses, malls and other public buildings of the sort targeted by mass murderers have also beefed up security, but somehow, these shooters have managed to outwit authorities when determined to do so.
Restaurants have been iffy in terms of safety ever since James Huberty opened fire at a California McDonald's, killing 22, in 1984. Did the Huberty incident stop people from enjoying greasy, high-calorie food at the world's premiere fast-food restaurant? Hardly. Nor will Holmes's massacre deter people set on attending the midnight movie at a theater with friends.
So how can we prevent mass shootings? The answer is simple; we can't. The sheer amount of land that this nation, and the world, occupies precludes this.
Right now, the nation is extremely shook up and feeling unsafe, as well it should when people who are doing nothing but innocently enjoying a recreational event become dead victims of a deranged man's hatred. Everyone's grieving this very public loss of lives, which the news and social media has jumped all over. It won't be forgotten, but this incident will eventually pass into history like the others before it.
Now is a good time to commemorate the 15,000 single-victim murders that occur in the U.S. every year, many of which could easily have been prevented and get lost in the news. The world only hears about these when the victim has celebrity ties, is a child or there was something unique about the crime. The news is otherwise confined to the region, even though the victims are just as dead, and the deaths just as tragic, as any other.