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Colorado: Our Odd Focus



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What happened in Colorado in the early hours of this morning was not a “tragedy” but a willful act of mass murder. Beyond his age, name, and ethnicity, nobody yet knows who the shooter is, or why he chose to do what he did. In my view, this is a blessing, albeit a temporary one; for, as has been the way in recent years, once his party registration, television-viewing habits, and random scribblings become known to the public, all sorts of hysterical speculation and unlettered accusations will burst forth.

Whole groups will be vilified, blame will be apportioned to those many times removed, and the shooter will be partially absolved of blame by those who prefer to see fault in video games or talk radio or political rhetoric or anything else that can be conscripted to explain why terrible things happen to good people. Few will point out that unless someone commits an atrocity in the name of an ideology — Timothy McVeigh, for example — their political beliefs are wholly irrelevant. Even in cases where a killer is motivated by something specific, to draw general conclusions is most often folly. America is not the land of collective guilt, and mass shootings should carve out no exception. Those few people who have already jumped on the crime to hit out at their boogeyman of choice are fools.

Alas, this welcome early absence of opportunity for partisan political blame has created a vacuum that has been filled by another form of folly: Calls for “gun control.” Upon hearing the news, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence immediately changed the front page of its website to aver that, “This is yet another horrific reminder that guns enable mass killings.”

#more#In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg lost no time in exploiting the crime to advance his agenda. From CBS:

In the wake of a mass shooting in a suburban Denver movie theater, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is calling on President Obama and Mitt Romney to offer up more than “soothing words” and talk about how they will address gun-related violence.

“Maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country.” Bloomberg said in an interview on WOR News Talk Radio 710 in New York City.

“I mean, there are so many murders with guns every day, it’s just got to stop,” he continued. “And instead of the two people — President Obama and Governor Romney — talking in broad things about they want to make the world a better place, okay, tell us how. And this is a real problem. No matter where you stand on the Second Amendment, no matter where you stand on guns, we have a right to hear from both of them concretely, not just in generalities — specifically what are they going to do about guns?”

On Twitter, CNN’s Piers Morgan wrote:

Horrendous details from this Colorado cinema shooting. America has got to do something about its gun laws. Now is the time.

More Americans will buy guns after this, to defend themselves, and so the dangerous spiral descends. When/how does it stop?

Lunatics like this will always try and get guns. It should be 100,000 times harder than it is for them to do so. That’s my point. #Colorado

Others pitched in. Actor John Leguizamo tweeted:

My heart goes 2 all the victims families in colorado. No one should have to go thru that. When r we gonna get guns removed in this country?!

The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch wrote:

Unless politicians push aggressive relentless gun control they’re accepting these shootings & complicit in the slaughter.

Jose Antonio Vargas tweeted:

To @barackobama@mittromney, journalists: can we please have an honest and constructive dialogue about gun control? #theatershooting

This is predictable, but deeply misguided. As usual, this is not an issue of gun control. As Cesare Beccaria wrote in 1764 in Crimes and Punishments:

The laws of this nature are those which forbid to wear arms, disarming those only who are not disposed to commit the crime which the laws mean to prevent. Can it be supposed, that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, and the most important of the code, will respect the less considerable and arbitrary injunctions, the violation of which is so easy, and of so little comparative importance? Does not the execution of this law deprive the subject of that personal liberty, so dear to mankind and to the wise legislator? And does it not subject the innocent to all the disagreeable circumstances that should only fall on the guilty? It certainly makes the situation of the assaulted worse and of the assailants better, and rather encourages than prevents murder, as it requires less courage to attack unarmed than armed persons.

As Beccaria implies, this crime was ultimately about people. It was about the shooter, the victims, and their families — and very little else besides — and we would do well to avoid breathlessly proposing radical changes to our constitutional order because a man abused his liberty. Those with evil in their hearts are prone to do evil things, and those willing to violate strict prohibitions against murder do not care much about regulation of firearms or much else. As such, unless the shooter was part of a bigger conspiracy or was systematically failed by an institution, our attentions might be better focused on Aurora, Colo., and not on any particular group, or — even worse — the whole citizenry of the United States.



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