Like the rest of our nation, and probably most of the world, my heart and my condolences go out to the injured, their families, and the families of the slain. For them, this isn’t a spectacular news event that will keep the public’s attention for a few days or a couple of weeks. This is a personal tragedy that many will spend years, if not lifetimes, dealing with. They have my sympathies.
We have already seen that this tragedy is being picked up by the politicians and the “chattering class” of commentators and anti-rights activists as the latest example of the need to restrict firearms. Why is it that firearms imbue the public with collective guilt? One of the reasons that I became an atheist was because I refused to believe that I was guilty of some crime that was committed by a fictional character and had to atone for it. I have enough mistakes of my own, I don’t need to feel guilty about the actions of others I had no control over. In regards to this shooting, I didn’t murder anyone. I have not used my firearms in an irresponsible manner. Why should I be punished for the actions of someone I wasn’t even aware of, much less controlled?
The answer might be that guns are specifically designed to kill and therefore must be treated with different rules. This is a fallacy. First, guns are inanimate objects. Despite urban legends, firearms can’t discharge on unless a human being loads a bullet into the firing chamber and engages the trigger. That being said, guns are potentially dangerous items. This is why we teach children to respect them, just like we do with other potentially dangerous items like lawn mowers, gasoline, and household chemicals. Firearms can’t kill a human being unless the operator is careless or malicious, just as gasoline can’t burn down a house unless the user is careless or malicious. If we don’t punish the general populace when an arsonist uses a Molotov cocktail to burn down a house by taking away their access to gasoline, then why should we restrict access to firearms because one individual commits a heinous act?
Could this particular incident been avoided? Perhaps, but trying to ascertain that less than 36 hours after the incident is premature. The perpetrator probably is mentally ill, but that may or may not have been an indicator that he was planning this type of crime. We Don’t Know. This kind of event is something that we ultimately can’t prevent, anymore than we can prevent a hurricane or tornado. There will always be someone out there who will slip through any preventive measure, exploit the weaknesses in our culture and institutions, and wreak unimaginable carnage. It Will Happen. Unlike natural disasters, society may be able to limit the frequency of these events, but we will not be able to eliminate them.
I’ve seen a few blogs that have made the point that this crime is an example of why the authors carry a gun. I agree with Linoge from Walls of the City that this isn’t a very strong argument. From the preliminary reports, the murderer was wearing some sort of body armor. I very much doubt that the 9 mm I regularly carry would penetrate. We could speculate on the use of a head-shot, but I don’t think the run-of-the-mill concealed carrier would be able to make such a shot under the conditions (darkened theater, panicking people, some sort of gas canister going off, being fired at by a murderer). Fighting at that point means either getting a rifle (probably not realistic) or closing with the murderer and physically removing him as a threat (e.g., Tuscon shooting). Could I do it? I would hope I have enough courage and ability, but I honestly don’t know. I know when I go into a place, including a movie theater, I try to know my environment. Now, I have one more thing to add to my threat assessment. I will let those more knowledgeable then me do the full analysis, and I will try to incorporate the lessons learned.