By John Barron
The killing of twelve people at a midnight screening of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, early this past Friday has united a nation in grief, yet also divided Americans along predictable lines.
The shooting was made all the more shocking by the everyday nature of the setting: a suburban multiplex on a summer night, showing the latest in a blockbuster franchise — a special treat for holidaying kids, their parents, and twenty-something fans of the superhero series.
A number of movie-goers were in Batman-themed fancy dress, so the tall young man who left the cinema then came back through an emergency exit dressed like a member of a SWAT team didn’t look completely out of place.
Until he set off gas canisters and the shooting on the screen was interrupted by dozens of horribly real gunshots.
Equally disturbing was the meticulous planning by the alleged gunman, 24 year old James Holmes — a high-achieving honours student until a few months ago, when something apparently went very wrong.
Holmes had been a PhD candidate in neuroscience and applied that intelligence to acquiring deadly weapons, armor, a gas mask, and canisters to execute his deadly attack.
He also rigged his apartment with booby traps and reportedly set loud music to a timer — presumably to lure neighbors or police into another deadly ambush.
When he was apprehended, he told the arresting officers he was the Batman character The Joker. His hair and beard had reportedly been dyed red.
While James Holmes is almost certainly suffering from a major mental illness, he is generally being portrayed by the media as a sinister, highly intelligent villain: someone who is evil rather than someone suffering a sickness over which they have no control.
While both President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney cancelled campaign events and have suspended election advertising in Colorado, the politics of such a tragedy are inescapable.
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said that "soothing words are nice" but immediately called on the candidates to "stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about" preventing such shooting incidents.
On Sunday, President Obama travelled to Aurora to meet with some of the victims' families and survivors.
The President asked that Americans focus on the victims and the survivors rather than the perpetrator. "I hope that over the next several days, next several weeks, next several months we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country, but also reflect on all the wonderful people who make this the greatest country on earth."
Its difficult to see, however, that this mass shooting will jolt a divided nation into agreement on gun control any more than last year’s Arizona shootings, which claimed six lives and so nearly the life of Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The massacre at Fort Hood in 2009, which took a dozen lives, and another at Virginia Tech, which claimed 32 lives in 2007 both failed to bridge the fundamental disagreement between those who see guns as the problem and others who see them as their best hope for protection in a violent world.
Although, after Virginia Tech, state laws to try and prevent mentally ill people purchasing guns were tightened.
Ultimately the issue should perhaps be on mental health services to identify and treat those in danger of becoming so removed from reality that there is no longer a barrier to such terrible actions.
But, of course, health care is an even more contentious issue in America these days than gun control.
23 July 2012