Dark questions for a Dark Knight…

Movie Theater
(Photo credit: roeyahram)

Last week, a former graduate student did the unthinkable – he entered a crowded movie theater and, in a scene straight out of the most violent of films, caused havoc, killing 12 people and wounding 58 more.

Just reading the descriptions of the event is horrific. It’s not something that the average American can wrap their head around. At home, we were baffled. A friend spent the next day consoling one of his closest friends whose ex-wife was killed in the theater. “How am I supposed to tell our girls they’ll never see their mommy again?” He asked. It has taken me this long to wrap my head around the whole thing enough to actually form a coherent thought.

In the aftermath, theaters beefed up security, police were on high alert and theater goers were nervous. A few copycat attempts popped up, and a few cases of paranoia resulted in perfectly innocent people having their bags and persons searched.

And of course, the politics started before the blood in the theater had even dried.

The left says this is a prime example of why we need more gun control. The right screams back that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. And they’re both wrong… and right.

The fact of the matter is this: a young man, who had presumably never owned a firearm before, suddenly purchased four weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Though the police haven’t detailed the contents of the booby traps in the apartment, it’s a safe bet he also purchased the makings of some IEDs. Let’s not forget that he also purchased what has been described as “riot gear” – including bullet-resistant helmet, vest and leg coverings.

And he was able to buy all of this without causing any raised eyebrows, or offering any explanation as to his sudden deep interest in firearms. He was technically within the law, but because he didnt’ buy his guns all from the same store within 5 days, he didn’t trigger the mandatory reporting laws. (gee, how hard is that one to avoid?)

I’m not an advocate for wide-reaching gun control (especially when it’s the type that is so easy to work around it’s virtually useless). Nor am I the type who believes that Average Joe should be able to purchase anything he wants, whenever he wants, without any form of ID or background check at all. I believe the second amendment, just like all the others, was written very carefully and it means exactly what it says, that the American people have a right to own firearms.

But here’s where I start having problems. The far right would have us believe that if there were armed citizens within that theater, the carnage would have ended more rapidly. That some sharp shootin’ Good Samaritan would have stood up and dropped the bad guy before he had a chance to kill too many people.

Sorry. I don’t believe that.

It was a dark movie theater. There was a loud movie going on. There was smoke thanks to that very same bad guy. People who were there said they couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from. So unless that hypothetical sharp shootin’ Good Samaritan was also combat trained, I doubt that an armed citizen within the audience would have made a whole lot of difference.

Besides, hey, guess what?! Colorado happens to be a concealed carry state. Huh, go figure.

(And this is coming from someone who grew up with guns, has been a certified NRA handgun instructor, a competition sport pistol shooter, a hunter, editor of several gun magazines and concealed carry permit holder.)

The far left, on the other hand, seems to think that stricter gun-control laws, or outright bans, would have prevented this whole thing.

Sorry, I don’t believe that either.

Though this bad guy purchased the firearms legally, the fact remains that it is not difficult to illegally obtain a firearm. No, there isn’t a dingy van on every corner staffed by a friendly neighborhood thug looking to sell you an Uzi. But there are plenty of ways to get guns. And there are plenty of ways to make IEDs with readily available materials that require no special licensing to buy.

No, the genie is out of the bottle.

So, if a police state isn’t the answer, and a self-policed state isn’t the answer… what is?

Where’s the middle ground? Where are the sensible proposals for some form of national, instant background checks? Or of some form of registry that would have identified firearm purchases no matter whether they were from the same store or not?

And here’s a dangerous thought… Where are the red flags that should have popped up when a young man suddenly dropped out of a doctoral program and started buying guns, ammunition and the makings of explosives?

Rather than arguing about how banning guns would have prevented this, or how enabling citizens to take the law into their own hands would have stopped him before too many were killed (what exactly is “too” many, by the way), why are we not looking at ways to identify suspect behavior and start asking questions before something explodes.
Why are we waiting until it’s too late, when we find ourselves saying, “Yeah, I knew he was having problems…” instead of trying to fix the problem before it gets too big to fix?