This morning the United States awoke to news of at least 12 people dead and dozens more wounded after a gunman invaded a Colorado movie theatre which was filled with people at midnight going to see the new “Batman” film. The cruelty and carnage is impossible to come to terms with. The bereaved and those suffering horrible injuries badly need prayers along with all the practical help that is being provided.
The media mill is already churning out analyses, speculations and even political prognostications, while the bodies are still warm, and here even I’m writing about it. Advocates of gun control in America, from media talking heads to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have already jumped on the story to support their point of view on that issue. At this minute we don’t even know whether the apparent perpetrator, identified as James Holmes, legally owned his weapons or broke the law to obtain them, and we also do not know anything about his motivation.
The gun control debate will rev up for a while and it will pass. Maybe some localities will pass stricter regulations. Maybe there will be a push for more federal regulations. But whether you oppose guns or (like yours truly) vigorously support the right of law-abiding citizens to own firearms, one practical fact ought to be faced: Guns will never be removed from America. Even the most draconian federal gun ban (one which is politically inconceivable) would only take guns away from people who obey the law, leaving and even promoting an illegal trade in firearms. Britain has long had strict gun control, and in 1997 passed a total handgun ban. Yet gun crime has only increased since then. The United States has many more millions of guns already in circulation than Britain could ever dream of having had. America will never be even close to being a gun-free society.
I think instead, when an act of such complete and inherent evil is committed, as was last night in Aurora, Colorado, it ought to provide an opportunity for questioning how human beings can get to the point of taking such actions. How can a human being treat other human beings as nothing more than detritus, to be shot down like tin cans? Where does the hatred and the sadism come from? How are we allowing the likes of these sociopathic mass murderers, like Loughner, like the Virginia Tech and Columbine killers, to grow in our midst and progress to carrying out such crimes? What can be done to identify them and heal them before they explode in total evil?
There won’t be any final answer to those questions either, but they very much need to be asked today, and to go on being asked.
In the midst of all the links to stories on the shooting, Drudge cannily linked to a 2008 column by a writer named Jenny McCartney, in which she reacts with horror to the grindingly high level of super-realistic violence and sadism in the previous Batman movie (where Heath Ledger played the Joker). She asked then what effect this was having on the young children seeing it; she pointed out that this is really something very new. Kids used to be scared by “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” or “The Wizard of Oz.” Now they are scared by movies where people get their eyes gouged out with pencils, their genitals whipped, and where the flesh tears and the blood flows with complete realism. What’s the effect of it? I never saw such stuff as a child. I can’t imagine how it would have affected me.
Although I’m particularly fed up personally with the never-ending stream of boringly-violent “comic-book” extravaganzas, I would not advocate for violent films to be banned in the wake of this event, any more than I would advocate for firearms to be banned. But we need to pay attention to how children are being injured by exposure to everything at such young ages, thanks not only to our generally loosened standards but also due to how the internet and related technology makes everything so instantly accessible.
It’s an era of instant-access-overload: violence, pornography, however and whenever you want it. The technology is not inherently evil (anymore than firearms are inherently evil) but we are very far from catching up to what it means for us and how it’s changing our lives and essentially raising so many children.
There’s no pause button to allow us to catch up, but catch up we will, one way or another.