IN THE SHADOW OF COLUMBINE – THE AURORA THEATER MASSACRE

Ironically, the Century theater multiple shooting was but 13 miles from Columbine high school, and just 13 years later.  13 people were killed at Columbine, and 12 at Aurora, although the final body count is not yet in.  I suspect at least one of the critically injured will not survive, and will not be surprised if 13 is the final total dead in this most recent mass killing.

Mass killings have been on the rise world-wide, as has the global population, and we can expect more separated by less time as time passes and population increases.  More people means more disturbed people – the kind who perpetrate this kind of carnage.  There are evil people in the world, and in our towns and cities, and although we do not understand the source of their evil and the impetus for their actions, we do understand that people have been murdering people since time began, and that such is not likely to stop anytime soon.

Although popular belief appears to be that one person dying in a plane crash is not as bad as a whole plane load, to the survivors of the person who died the tragedy is not diminished by the lack of numbers.  So, also, is it with murder.  We go into national shock in the face of mass murder, but hardly notice when a murder somewhere else is posted in a few lines on page 3, and often not reported on the evening news, at least nationally.  Apparently we feel personally more vulnerable when many people are killed, as we consider that we could have been at that place at that time, while we have no such feelings of risk when we hear of a ghetto killing, as we do not relate to the setting or the vulnerability.

That guns are frequently used in the United States, and less frequently used in the rest of the world, always brings a hue and cry following Aurora-type events for more controls and less access by shooters to weapons of mass capacity (100 round magazines) and large quantities of ammunition.  It is reported that the Aurora shooter amassed 6,000 rounds of ammunition of various calibers, which is thought to be unusual.  Actually it is not that unusual for a competitive shooter to have 6000 rounds on hand at any given time, as I frequently fired off 3000-4000 rounds per week when I was trap shooting competitively.  It is also not unusual for regular shooters to buy in quantity when ammunition is on sale, for the same reason that shoppers stock up on “on sale” items at the grocery store.

Quantity, however, begs the question of capacity.  While I touched off several thousand rounds each week, I did so no more than 2 at a time, with a firearm having a total capacity of 2.  Although there is no need for a shotgun (the trap shooters firearm) to accommodate a large magazine, and indeed such would be too cumbersome to handle, there is a need for military firearms to have high capacity magazines for reasons which should be obvious.

Is there, however, a need for civilians to be able to easily acquire high-capacity magazines for tactical assault rifles such as was the case at the Aurora theater?  In my mind the answer is a resounding “no.”  Although I have made a living defending the Second Amendment for many years, and although I have been and am a member of the National Rifle Association for as many years, I believe that reasonable restrictions on the availability of high-cap firearms are not only sensible but necessary.  I was in favor of the ban on such firearms enacted during the Clinton Administration, and I am in favor of them now.  No citizen has a legitimate need for a semi-automatic firearm capable of discharging in excess of 100 rounds per minute with a magazine capable of loading 100 rounds in response.  So, if the “Clinton” restrictions are introduced in response to Aurora (and they surely will be), I support those restrictions and suggest they should be made permanent rather than having a sunset provision as was part of the previous law.

Having said this, it is naive to believe that directing our attention to the means of human destruction will have much to do with the fact of human destruction.  We have 300 million firearms in the U.S., so those already in circulation are surely ample to keep the killing going.  If we could somehow confiscate all those weapons, the evil behind Columbine, Aurora and others such events would still be with us, and I suspect that evil would take a page from the mass killers of the Mid-East who favor suicide vests and car bombs to carry out their works.  Ted Kaczynski thought so. If evil people determine to kill, they will find a way in the form of bombs, poisons, poison gasses, structural failures, and so it goes.  It is, then, the culture of evil which we should focus upon, not the means by which it is perpetrated.

We need to change the culture.  We need to reduce the violence.  We need to change our conversation and our social contract to reduce the resort to mass killing.  And, we need to do this one person at a time.  We are not going to change TV news when violence sells; we are not going to change the genre of movies when violence sells; we are not going to change the culture when we allow incivility to rule.  We can, however, change the culture of violence and evil by changing the way in which we interact with each other.

I suggest that we must do so by leading by example, which includes speaking by example, and which, among other things, means being kinder than necessary, recognizing that everyone is carrying a heavy load, being kind and respectful in the face of rudeness and insult, practicing random acts of kindness in large and small ways on a daily basis, and changing our conversation from negative to positive as a commitment to the way in which we choose to live our lives.  As the Navajo culture so aptly teaches, we must commit to “Follow the beauty path.”

This takes conscious effort.  We cannot be unconscious and cause any change.  We must be mindful of our actions, living in the present moment, and determined to change the world around us, knowing that the example we set will influence others even when we don’t know the others are aware.  We need to overhaul our thinking about and institutions of mental health, also, but I leave that discussion for another time.

All human actions begin with a conversation.  Let us begin the conversation of kindness and civility, as a commitment to leading by spoken example.  Let us monitor ourselves and each other, and begin the process of changing the culture of evil, one word, one action, one thought at a time, knowing that all change is accomplished in such manner.  Let us do no harm, both physically and verbally, and let us follow the beauty path because it is the right thing to do.

In memory of those who died and those who are suffering as a consequence of the evil at Aurora and throughout the world.

Namaste