Thirteen years ago, I attended a special reception at the church where I belonged at the time. The reception was really a thank you party for those of us who had participated as canvassers in that year's canvass campaign. (The canvass campaign was the name for its annual pledge drive.) A few days after, I received a note in the mail from one of my fellow canvassers, Jan. It was a brief note; she said that she could tell I was upset at the reception, and that I could call her if I needed to talk.
What I was upset about was what took place just days before -- the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
Indeed, the news on that Spring day in 1999 out of Littleton had shaken me up. It wasn't a case of one student taking a gun to school to go after another student who had picked on him, which is horrible enough on its own, but it was the cold and calculated nature with which the two boys carried out their horrific plan that got to me. It was also that a high school -- well, any school, for that matter -- that should have tests and detention or any other disciplinary action as its greatest fears for students, was turned into a war zone...a place where lives hung in the balance. It had been some time since I was in high school when the Columbine massacre took place, but I thought of my time in high school. I thought of those students in Columbine experiencing such terror at such a young age. I thought of how precious, and sometimes precarious, life is.
In addition to the tragic element, the irony is that the towns of Littleton (Columbine) and Aurora (Century 16 movie theater) in Colorado are only approximately sixteen miles apart from each other. For those who mourned thirteen years ago over Columbine, the Aurora movie theater massacre must have seemed eerily similar and equally horrific.
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, overreacting is not helpful, although taking whatever necessary steps in the aftermath is appropriate. I have heard people calling for metal detectors to be put in movie theaters. Much like how it must have made students feel like they were in a military institution, or maybe even a jail, when metal detectors started popping up in schools across the country, I do not want to see moviegoers subjected to the same environment. And let's be honest here: What good would metal detectors have done in this situation? Holmes didn't have his weapons with him when he bought his ticket; he had them outside in his car. Therefore, if metal detectors had already been in place at the Century 16 movie theater, he would have walked in like he did, walked out of the theater like he did, propped open the door like he did, suited up like he did, and reentered to kill everyone like he did.
Part of the human impact from this situation needs to be to respond in the future wisely, not in a reactive manner. Changing gun laws to violate the rights of those who have them legally, use them legally, and never use them illegally is not a wise response. Relaxing already-relaxed existing laws is not wise response, either, as is the case with doing nothing at all. Having a statewide or national database that tracks purchases which, when looked at as a whole, are a warning sign, is one example of a wise response. Admittedly, wise response is not always easy when emotions and wounds, both physical and emotional, are high.
Eluding back to part one of this series, another part of the human impact is individual response. It is natural to want to be safe. It is natural to protect yourself when you can. One response an individual can have is to not go into movie theaters...self-protection...and it is an understandable response. Another response is to go into movie theaters with an uninformed air of bravado, as if to say, "I dare anyone to try that here." That would be foolish. Going to movie theaters now, or eventually, and being mindful and aware of your surroundings, but not overcome with fear is one example of a wise individual response. It is important to remember that this particular kind of behavior isn't happening every week, even month, or even every year. Individual response is up to the individual, of course, and "big ticket" matters, like gun laws and state/national databases, are for the larger scale. We can and should be part of that larger scale by adding our voices in calling for what responses we think appropriate.
Another human element in all of this is blame. Who do we blame? Just the shooter? The shooter's parents? School officials? Friends? Who? Some are blaming the film The Dark Knight Rises because of the violence in it. Really? I thought an appropriate response by the studios was to pull a preview for an upcoming film, which included a scene of a shooting in a movie theater. Blame a movie? Okay, let me address that. Have there been movies where people emulated acts in the film in their own lives? Yes. Have some of those acts been benign or likely to only hurt the person him/herself? Yes. Have some of those acts been to hurt others, intentionally or accidentally? Yes. And have some of those acts been to hurt others on the scale as what happened in Aurora or Littleton? Yes. Therefore, to blame movies, or video games, as solely or mostly responsible makes sense? My answer is no. However, ignoring that some individuals, by far the minority in their accumulative numbers, are going to see the same things that millions of others also see and slip a gear in their head is not wise response.
I have seen dozens and dozens of horror films and "slasher flicks" and there has never been one time that I even thought about doing what was done in Aurora and Littleton. Why? Because I'm odd? Or is it because, like most persons on the planet, I do not have something going on inside my mind first that simply needs something, anything, to set it off? That's it!!! There is no preexisting condition, as it were, and that is key! I'm not in favor of more violence in entertainment and other media, and I do think less of it would be a good thing, but I do not see a wise response in removing some things across the board because of the few who already have mental issues lacking that something inside of them that keeps the fantasy and reality separate.
To make that across-the-board-elimination argument would also validate an argument that, for example, the war films of the 1940's (i.e. Prelude to War, Destination Tokyo, The Fighting 69th, etc.) inspired those who were young, but old enough to go to the movies, to go out and create more wars in their lifetime. Anyone arguing in favor of that? When's the last time you heard of someone pinning any blame on Frank Capra?
I almost wanted to subtitle this third part 'Innocence Lost' because another piece of this in terms of the human impact is just that, losing our innocence. We have lost more and more of our innocence as time has progressed. Look at how stunned we were as a nation of the events of September 11, 2001, and yet it was lost on many of us how we were attacked sixty years earlier (December 7, 1941) at Pearl Harbor. Granted, Pearl Harbor was a military base (and Hawaii was not a state yet) and 9/11 was on civilian soil, but we lost lives in both attacks. Our loss of innocence did not begin on 9/11, although that was the biggest blow in recent times, and it did not begin with Watergate, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War II, or even World War I. Our loss of innocence has been an ongoing process. Speaking of responses, as I was earlier, the important issue is how we respond to when some of our innocence is lost.
The oldest to die in the Aurora movie theater massacre was 51, one year older than I. The youngest was just 6 years old. Most of those killed were in their 20's, with the average age of the dozen persons killed being 26. The youngest shooting victim who survived was only three months old. This massacre, like Columbine, was a moment of innocence lost, for no one expects such horrors to happen in a movie theater. (That is, no horror any worse than a really lousy movie that you paid to see.) In addition to those in Colorado, we, as a nation, need to mourn. We need to feel that shock of lives and innocence lost. And we need to respond. Wisely.
Peace, love, well-wishes, prayers, and good energies to all who lost loved ones on July 20, 2012. Let us remember those who died in this senseless and terrible tragedy:
Jonathan Blunk, 26
Jonathan Blunk, 26
Alexander J. Boik, 18
Jesse Childress, 29
Gordon Cowden, 51
Jessica Ghawi, 24
John Larimer, 27
Matt McQuinn, 27
Micayla Medek, 23
Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6
Alex Sullivan, 27
Alexander C. Teves, 24
Rebecca Wingo, 32
Grateful that my electric only blinked a few times during the storm while I wrote this post,Terry