As even the most casual observer of the news knows, the Obama administration’s sale of weapons to Mexican drug cartels was intended to support the president’s contention that American guns are chiefly responsible for the ongoing war now waging between drug gangs and the government south of the border. If not for the revelations regarding the Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious, the massacre of Mexico’s innocents would have provided Obama and his gun-grabbing Democrats the ammunition needed to reinstate the U.S. assault weapons ban, which lapsed during the presidency of George W. Bush.
However, the killing spree that unfolded in an Aurora, Colorado, theater has rekindled the age-old gun debate in America, proving that, as far as the current administration is concerned, no crisis shall go to waste.
Time magazine’s Joe Klein observes, “Ever since 1976, we’ve been averaging more than 20 [mass shootings] per year. Now, that has to do with a lot of things. It has to do with industrial-strength violence on TV and the movies, and the obsessive use of violent video games by young men, and the increasing mobility and atomization of society — but, as the Aurora shooting demonstrates, the carnage is greater (and the experience more otherworldly kinetic) when assault weapons are involved.”
Thus, anti-Second Amendment enthusiasts hope the act of an evil and gifted genius (alleged shooter James Eagan Holmes is a highly intelligent university man) will provide the juice necessary to advance what Fast and Furious failed to deliver – more gun legislation.
Klein’s observation that mass shootings increased dramatically around 1976 is worth noting. That’s four short years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Jackson vs. Indiana.
The case centered on Theon Jackson, a man deemed mentally unfit to stand trial after he was charged with two counts of petty theft. The remedy for such cases was to hold mentally-ill defendants in psychiatric hospitals until they were deemed competent to stand trial. Jackson was a mentally retarded deaf-mute who could neither read nor write. With his mental condition unlikely to improve with time, his hospital confinement was a de facto life sentence.
The ’76 ruling found the State of Indiana in violation of Jackson’s Constitutional right to due process and the rest, as they say, is history. The mentally ill were released and allowed to roam the streets.
According to a recent Medicare Payment Advisory Commission report, “In 2008, the average length of a stay in a psychiatric facility was 13.1 days.”
Unlike Jackson, James Holmes possesses an agile mind. One capable of concocting a deadly plot that ended the lives of 12, wounding 59. Add to this his facility for combining chemical compounds in interesting ways. If police had entered his apartment like bulls in a proverbial china shop, the resulting booby-trap explosion would have leveled the entire apartment building.
Of course, there is Joe Klein’s other argument that “industrial-strength” Hollywood violence also inspired Holmes. After all, he was emulating a villain (The Joker) from the previous Batman film “The Dark Knight.” This is problematic as well.
Violence was a part of movie storytelling long before there was a Hollywood. The Edison Manufacturing Company of West Orange, New Jersey, produced what film historians consider the first modern motion picture. “The Great Train Robbery,” released in 1903, was an old-fashioned western shoot ’em up.
Although the film is a mere 12 minutes long, one person is shot and killed for each of those action-packed minutes. The director ends the visual spectacle with a close-up of a train robber who turns, looks towards the camera, pulls his pistol and fires all six bullets at the audience.
We laugh as we watch it today, but in 1903 more than a few audience members ducked for cover.
This reminds me of the made-for-TV movie “They Might be Giants.” Actor George C. Scott plays a man who believes he is the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. While sitting in a movie theater, he turns to the psychiatrist studying him (played by Joanne Woodward) and explains his love for violent American westerns.
“If you look closely down there … you can see principles. You can see the possibility of justice and proportion. You can see men move their own lives. There are no masses in Virginia City, only individuals whose will for good or bad can bring them to the ends they ought to have.”
The irony here is that a madman had a clearer understanding of the moral universe surrounding him than did the cold, clinical psychiatrist tasked with curing him.
Likewise, alleged Colorado shooter James Holmes saw that universe with sharp Technicolor clarity … and chose to serve its dark side.
Anti-Second Amendment types in the media and politics seek a cause for the Colorado rampage and have seized on something tangible – assault weapons. These two-dimensional thinkers are oblivious to the tragedy’s more palpable and frightening cause – evil. And no corner of our world is too small or remote to escape its touch – whether it was Hitler’s favorite 1920s Munich beer hall or a movie theater in little Aurora, Colorado.
Speaking of small corners of the world, the American city with the highest number of gun-related deaths is the backwater burg President Obama calls home – Washington, D.C. A city that bans the legal possession of assault weapons.