Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Like most of you, I was horrified to learn of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. Since the news broke, the Internet has become inundated with people attempting to utilize the tragedy to reinforce their pre-existing worldview. This includes everything from gun control to Christian theology and I am not sure any of it is very constructive.

Those advocating tighter gun controls have used the incident as a rallying cry, insisting that it was guns that enabled a disturbed man to become an efficient killer.  They would remind us that no reasonable person needs 6,000 rounds of ammunition, a ballistic helmet, and an AR-15 to deter a burglar or defend their family.  While tighter controls could possibly infringe on civil liberties it is a chance we should take in order to protect the innocent and prevent these tragedies in the future.

Those advocating less gun oversight would counter that argument by pointing out that preventing law-abiding citizens from defending themselves would only give criminals the advantage. They would retort that this type of scenario is exactly why most Americans carry guns in the first place and that we cannot allow our Constitutional freedoms to be eroded simply because one mentally deranged person decided to commit a cowardly act of violence. Perhaps criminals will think twice if their victims can shoot back. 
Personally, I think they are both right and both wrong. If someone of Holmes’ intelligence and drive wishes to take innocent human life they can accomplish it with or without guns. We know that he was fairly proficient with explosives, so had his access to guns been limited it is likely that we would have simply fashioned an IED.

It is also worth noting that Mr. Holmes acquired all of his weapons, body-armor, and ammunition through legal means because he had no criminal record. It would be nearly impossible to effectively profile a pre-med honor-student with no history of violent behavior. How do you screen someone whose first crime is an unfathomable massacre? Until he fired the first round inside the theater James Holmes was, by any reasonable definition, a responsible gun-owner exercising his second amendment rights

Generally speaking Colorado is gun-friendly, allows undocumented open carry and issues permits for concealed carry. In fact, if NCIC background checks per capita is used to estimate gun ownership levels, Colorado is in the top 15.This places it ahead of traditionally gun friendly states like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. This would seem to indicate that blaming gun restrictions is as baseless as blaming the guns themselves.

By the same token, I am not sure the threat of armed citizens would have deterred someone who has already lost touch with reality. Nor is it likely that a well-meaning patron could have effectively returned fire at an aggressor who was shielded behind ballistic gear and moving swiftly through a dark, smoke-filled theater, especially when that aggressor has the advantage of complete surprise.

Now I am sure that I will hear from people who would argue that they would be the exception to the rule. They will insist that while the rest of us mortals are taking cover and soiling our underwear they would be leaping sideways in slow motion as their implausibly well-placed rounds circumvented the shooter’s ballistic armor. While I will admit this is a possibility, no one can accurately predict how they will react to being shot at by someone intending to kill them (although I feel pretty confident about my own involuntary bowel evacuation prophecy).  

Perhaps even worse than the incessant bickering over firearm legislation is the attempts of mostly well-meaning spiritual leaders to explain the incident.

Evangelical pastor Jerry Newcombe responded to the tragedy this way:

I can't help but feel that to some extent, we're reaping what we've been sowing as a society. We said to God, "Get out of the public arena." Lawsuit after lawsuit, often by misguided "civil libertarians," have chased away any fear of God in the land -- at least in the hearts of millions.
Tens of millions of young people in this culture seem to have no fear of God. It's becoming too commonplace that some frustrated person will go on a killing spree of random people. If they kill themselves, they think it's all over. But that's like going from the frying pan into the fire. Where's the fear of God in our society?

Newcombe is not the only Christian putting in their two cents worth. The tragedy, along with the fact that four of those dead are active-duty military personnel, has not escaped the notice of Westboro Baptist Church who is planning to picket in Colorado using the motto “God Sent The Shooter!”

While many would agree with Newcombe’s assessment and recoil at Westboro’s, both are leading us to the same conclusion. In either case the implication is that our collective disobedience as a nation has culminated in the death of innocent people. That if we had prayed more at high school graduations, allowed the Ten Commandments in more state capitals, or been less accommodating to homosexuals God would have intervened and spared these families the anguish they now feel.

While I cannot speak for God, I can assure you that if I was mourning a loved one who died at that theater I don’t know that the “someone had to be murdered so we could all see the error of our ways” argument would sit well with me. The inevitable question would then become “Why would God chose my child to make an example of?” Following this thread can only lead to the inevitable conclusion that this young man was an instrument of God, an idea I am unable to stomach.

I understand the desire to apply reason to chaos or purpose to suffering, but the reality is that people died in that theater because one man chose to kill them. This tragedy cannot be elevated by reckless theological speculation or assuaged by the authoring or rescinding of gun control laws. We must simply offer the respect and sympathy these victims deserve and realize that all of our religious and political posturing fades in the presence of such senseless loss.      

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