In the early hours of Friday morning, July 20th, as moviegoers at the Century Aurora 16 multiplex in Aurora, Colorado were viewing the latest Batman movie, the unthinkable happened. A gunman wearing body armor and a gas mask and carrying three firearms opened fire on those in attendance at a crowded midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. When the rampage concluded, 12 people had been killed and 50 more were injured, a number critically.
The gunman, arrested by authorities in the parking lot of the theater, was identified as James Eagan Holmes – until recently, a doctoral neuroscience degree candidate at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. The attack, planned over a period of months and documented in a packet reportedly mailed to Holmes’ psychiatrist, included a deadly diversion – the rigging of enough explosives in Holmes’ apartment to destroy the entire complex if ignited.
With this action, Holmes joins such perpetrators of mass carnage as Seung-Hui Cho who killed 32 and wounded 17 in two separate incidents on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007 and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who murdered 12 students and a teacher during a shooting spree at Columbine High School in 1999.
In the wake of this tragedy, we already sense proponents of gun control seizing this as yet another opportunity to attempt to legislate further restrictions on gun ownership as a means of deterring future mass killings. But, in my opinion, guns and gun ownership are tangential to the real issue. A gun does nothing of its own accord. It is people who perpetrate these acts on other people. The root of the problem and the reasons for its increasing frequency are, again in my opinion, personal and societal.
The motive for Holmes’ killings has yet to be uncovered. Yet, the underlying reasons for all these types of senseless acts always seem to be based on a perceived snub, slight, difference, or disadvantage of the perpetrator relative to his victims.
We live in a world of astounding wealth and profound poverty. And, the disparity between the wealthy and the impoverished is growing larger. Stark inequality in material well-being is not the only difference observable among people. In the non-material realm, people differ in traits including intelligence, physical appearance, opinions, attitudes, and methods of thinking. Add to these distinctions the unique genetic makeup and life experiences of each person, and we come to the realization that there will always be justification for those so inclined to foster hatred for those who appear to have genetic, familial, intellectual, or material advantages.
Regardless of our relative positions of advantage or disadvantage, however, we all have a common, human need that transcends the material and biological aspects of our nature. And that need, imprinted onto our very being from the womb, is to be loved. Atrocities like the mass killings at the Colorado Aurora 16 theater are not committed by those who feel loved. James E. Holmes, living in a self-perpetuated world of jealousy, hatred, distrust, and isolation, did not, from outward appearances, feel loved.
The way to eliminate such senseless violence, as is the case with most problems, lies not in attacking its extremities, but rather striking at its heart. Whether we eliminate or proliferate gun ownership cannot resolve the issue. Creating a climate of love in our families, communities, nations, and world is our only true hope of ending violence and bloodshed. For too many people, the vast majority of whom will never exhibit anti-social behavior, our world is a cruel place absent the love that they individually and collectively need to humanize their existences.
Understandably, it is difficult for those who lose loved ones under such circumstances as the Colorado theater shooting to feel anything other than hate for those who would perpetrate such atrocities. But, it is precisely in such circumstances that love and forgiveness are called for, if we are ever to transform our world.