Politicizing the Aurora Killings

06Aug12

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

– United States Constitution, Amendment II, 1791

It has now been over two weeks since the terrible event in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater — time enough, I think, to reflect on it a little. As soon as the news came out, there were the seemingly inevitable attempts to pin the blame on political opponents. Some blamed Rush Limbaugh, others ‘liberals‘, and yet others blamed the secular nature of our government. On Facebook, I saw someone claim that the killer (whose name I will not use) was a member of an extremist wing of the Occupy movement. Others have claimed that it was an ‘inside job‘, set to provoke an outcry for more gun control in the United States. Another has compared numbers dead from the shooter’s attacks and from U.S. foreign policy. It does appear that the much-mocked claim that the shooter was a Tea Party member was a case of mistaken identity and sloppy journalism.

With all that, there was also the backlash against politicizing the shootings. Chris Christie, among others, told us that it’s just not appropriate to discuss gun control in the wake of a mass shooting. This poses the question: “If not then, when?” I ask, on a day filled with news updates from another senseless shooting spree (this time at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin), in the country with the most firearm violence of all the developed nations.

It seems clear to me that we need to have a discussion about the role of firearms in our society. It is equally clear to me that in a republic of citizens, the way that we discuss issues of public importance is through the political process. So it is time to politicize the events in Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Tucson, and the past and upcoming sites of similar events.

In fact, supporters of gun rights would find several things in the Aurora case that are no threat for them. Though a psychologist at the University of Colorado had alerted the university’s threat assessment team about the shooter (a move that came to nothing once he left school), but that added nothing that would have appeared in a background check. There has been no mention of gun show firearms purchases, so this incident does not strengthen the case for closing the gun show loophole. Though it appears that the weapons were all purchased legally, there are no proposed measures that might have prevented this shooter from buying firearms (though restoring the assault weapons ban might have prevented him from buying some of the specific weapons he used).

So why do gun rights groups not want us to discuss the place of firearms in our society?

Because it would equalize the framework of the discussion.

There are three possible footings for discussions between representatives of two positions:

  1. Both sides of the issue are represented by calm, rational representatives.
  2. One side of the issue is represented by calm, rational representatives, while the other is represented by excited, irrational representatives.
  3. Both sides of the issue are represented by excited, irrational representatives.

In most cases, most of us would prefer the first of these options. Because of the way gun rights groups act, that footing is also never going to happen for this discussion. When there is no threat to firearms rights, gun rights groups invent one.

In the past five years, the Supreme Court has ruled for the first time that the right to bear arms is an individual right, not a collective right. President Obama has said that he agrees with that ruling, the Obama administration has permitted firearms in the national parks, and there have been a total of zero laws proposed during the Obama administration that would add restrictions on gun ownership. So, the NRA insists that he’s just waiting for a second term to shut down gun ownership. Gun Owners of America and the John Birch society claim that the International Small Arms Treaty (which is still being negotiated, and which may not even be finally called that) are an attempt by the United Nations to take our guns from us (never mind that to implement the treaty that they imagine, its terms would have to be translated into laws, passed by the House and Senate, signed by the President, and subject to judicial review — the real treaty is likely to deal with the international arms trade, and would have rare and limited influence on U.S. citizens). There is a vehicle I see from time to time, with a bumper sticker from the 2004 election, “Don’t Let John Kerry Get Your Guns.” (Never mind that Senator Kerry is a recreational shooter, and a Navy veteran who was one of the first to take Swift Boat operations onto dry land.) This posting I saw on Facebook is a great example of the irrational fear that the gun rights organizations operate under constantly:

An illustration of the fear that gun rights groups operate under

Keep in mind: there have been no new firearms restrictions introduced in the past four years, firearms are now widely permitted in the national parks, and President Obama has said that he agrees with the decision in D.C. v. Heller.

Two things that I find notable about this image are that it refers only to the second half of the Second Amendment, ignoring the first; and that it implies a threat of violence against law enforcement.

What if we could discuss it rationally?

Some people are already trying to. Michael Moore has an interesting and balanced piece which notes that countries like Switzerland share our guns but not our culture, and have fewer firearm murders; but that countries like Canada share much of our culture, but not our guns, and similarly have fewer firearm murders. Slate.com has hosted a discussion of whether or not an armed audience member could have stopped the shooter in Aurora, as well as the concerns that the shooter’s defensive weapons and armor raise. Ed Morrissey, in The Week, has criticized the gun control movement for disarming the sane populace. The Week and Slate.com have both inquired into the impact that the shootings might have on the debate, and David Horsey has complained about gun rights supporters’ slamming the door on the discussion.

There are people out there who are ready to have a rational discussion about this issue. If the gun rights organizations would start working toward the greater good, rather than keeping their members in a constant state state of fear and paranoia, we might be able to discuss the issue rationally. If not, then the only time that we can have a discussion of the role of guns in society on a balanced footing is in the aftermath of events like this.

Why don’t we take the time to sit down and talk about this like rational adults? What would we have to lose?

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One Response to “Politicizing the Aurora Killings”


  1. 1 Twenty-Two Proposals for Reducing Gun Violence « withamouthfullofstones

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