In the wake of the the tragic incident in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater that left 12 dead and 58 injured, I found my Facebook newsfeed to be congested with various opinions about the shooting. There were, here and there, expressions of shock, grief, prayers for those affected, etc. But the main topic of conversation seemed to be, as it almost always is following such an incident, gun control.
Now, I would classify myself as a fan of the Second Amendment. I grew up around guns, I learned to shoot and respect them at a young age, I carried them in peace keeping and in combat, and I believe that anyone of sound mind and clean legal background should be permitted to own and carry one for sport or protection if they so desire. However, I find it very hard to jump on the bandwagon with my like minded comrades who are lamenting the fact that there was no one in the movie theater in Aurora that was legally carrying a weapon and could have stopped the shooter, and who are decrying any calls for a reexamination of gun control legislation.
Let’s assume that there was someone in the theater who was legally carrying a firearm, would that have prevented the shooting? Probably not. The argument that citizens carrying firearms acts as deterrent against criminals is debatable at best, but it breaks down entirely in a situation like this. There is nothing but speculation as to the mental state of James Holmes at this time, but given the amount of planning and preparation that went into the act (from the use of body armor to booby-trapping his apartment) it is apparent that he was prepared for a confrontation and ready to see it through.
What if someone was able to shoot back and take out Holmes? That is a big “what if”. Becoming certified to carry a firearm is not the same as having the wherewithal and skill skill to use it effectively in a situation like this. In order to qualify for a concealed carry permit in the state of Ohio (which is comparable to other states around the country, and where my mother recently got her permit, go mom!), one must complete a certification course consisting of 10 hours of classroom training and 2 hours of training at a shooting range. While the course doe include classes like “Use of Deadly Force” and “Introduction to Basic Handgun Tactics”, it is not exactly thorough instruction on how to win a shootout. Neither does 2 hours of range qualification make one combat ready. Shooting rounds at a paper target, under optimal conditions, does not prepare one for confronting a violent and well-prepared attacker in a dark theater filled with tear gas and a surging, screaming, panicked crowd of innocent bystanders. If a Samaritan had been present in that theater with a gun, it is more likely that they would have added to the carnage, rather than diminished it.
The first victim in the aftermath of tragedies like this is any useful discourse on gun control. While anti-gun advocates will take the opportunity to mount a renewed attack on the rights of law-abiding citizens to carry guns, this is a fool-hardy en devour that is bound to fail. Prohibition has never been the answer to anything (see our Great experiment, the War on Drugs, etc) and the sport shooting/hunting/collecting culture is too ingrained.
On the other side of the debate are the hardcore gun lovers who see any restriction or tightening of gun control laws as an infringement on their Constitutional rights. The old adage that, if we outlaw guns, only the criminals will have them is trotted out frequently. Recent history, however, has not born this out. James Holmes, Jared Lee Loughner (the would-be assassin of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords), MAJ Nidal Hasan (the Fort Hood shooter), and Seung-Hui Cho (the Virginia Tech shooter) all obtained their murder weapons legally.
So how do we proceed? We can start by getting real. Forget the half-cocked fantasies about gun-toting cowboys. Men in white white hats that move about the population righting wrongs and deterring violence against the innocent make for great spaghetti western schtick, but that’s about it. Also, stop pretending that rational, sane, law-abiding citizens who own guns are a threat to everyone else. They’re not, period. Nor is making the process for people to legally acquire firearms more strenuous a dangerous proposition.
I support the citizen’s right to own and carry a weapon. I also support any reasonable effort to make sure that said citizen is not a psychopath or a criminal. If there is a need to enact or amend gun control legislation in the aftermath of Aurora, I hope that there can be a rational, open-minded dialogue that is not fueled by the same emotion and one-upmanship that has been clogging my social media outlets lately. But I fear that I ask too much.