Not long after 9/11 shocked the world, there was a group of journalists having dinner in New Hampshire, speculating about what would unfold next: retaliation, more attacks, invasion. The scenarios envisioned at that table were scary enough to require additional bottles of beer and wine.
But there was one scenario that came up that felt even more terrifying: that as the holiday shopping season approached, suicide bombers would start walking into crowded malls and detonate themselves at tremendous human cost. That one lingered in my mind.
Friday morning was the first time in many years I had thought about that.
I thought about friends of mine whose children attended a midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” the previous night in Montpelier. They had to wake up to the news and be chilled to the bone to learn of the cinema shootings in Aurora, Colo.
Twelve dead and as many as 50 injured.
We dare not think about what it must have been like inside that theater.
Across the nation, the shootings have been all anyone has talked about all Friday. Pundits have talked ad nauseam. So have politicians. Members of Vermont’s congressional delegation lined up to offer their prayers and condolences at the sickening crime that appears to have been done by a lone man. President Barack Obama said Friday morning that he was shocked by the shootings.
He shouldn’t be. In fact, he and many of our nation’s leaders should be ashamed today, because some of the blame is on them. Mass killings are becoming routine in this country. This horror could have played out anywhere, at any midnight premiere.
It could have happened in a crowded mall. It could have happened in Montpelier, Burlington, Rutland or Bennington.
The fact is that America is doing next to nothing to curb gun violence. Watch the news tomorrow night and wait for the next news story involving guns. We have not seen an act of horror with such tragic consequences in some time, but they happen with some regularity. The last incident that really captured the nation’s attention was the 2011 attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz. At that time, Obama and others promised to develop a new approach to gun safety. That shooting briefly muted inflammatory rhetoric in our political debates.
But any Google search shows that the president has been more or less silent on the issue since.
Well, it is an election year. If he plans to make better gun control laws a part of his campaign to win re-election in 2012, it will be news to voters.
Mitt Romney, the Republican contender, has advocated for some gun control measures, but as the pundits took glee in pointing out Friday, Romney has flip-flopped on that issue as well. (He now professes to be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and seems likely to push for fewer limits on firearms, according to various articles online.)
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg manned up Friday when he urged both candidates to respond to the shootings by giving details of their plans to improve gun control. Good for him for holding the candidates accountable. We should all do the same.
Has timing ever been better? Certainly not everyone in this state would say the time is ever right. That is until someone, God forbid, goes on a rampage here in the Green Mountain State.
But there is a local challenge with a lot at stake in this most recent event. Clearly, James Holmes, 24, the alleged gunman, has some sort of mental illness to go on this rampage. We do not know the details, but chances are we will learn things about him that will show there were “signs” and that in many ways he had somehow “fallen through the cracks.” Yet states keep cutting mental health programs that help the mentally ill curb violent tendencies. We need those resources in place to identify clients who may be a danger to society. It is negligence by any other definition.
But, many will argue for days to come, tougher gun control or better mental health programs might not have prevented the Aurora tragedy. We’ll never know. Nor will we ever know whether better background checks on gun buyers might have made a difference if we were never able to adequately explore the issue in Congress (or through independent study) with any depth or nonpartisan mudslinging. In fact, gun regulation — like Social Security — has become a third rail of politics. Objectivity always seems to get gunned down at the door.
This killer will go down in history as the madman who showed us — in an act of up-close-and-personal domestic terrorism — that something is gravely wrong in America, and that without meaningful debate we cannot effectively make our communities safer.
Think I am wrong? Then I dare you to actually take the next few minutes to imagine what it must have been like inside that dark theater at the stroke of midnight. And don’t forget to imagine those are your kids waiting to see Batman.
Steven Pappas is the editor of The Times Argus.MORE IN Commentary
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