One More Massacre
July 20, 2012
One More Massacre
Posted by Adam Gopnik
The murders—it dignifies them to call them a “tragedy”—in Aurora, Colorado, have hit us all hard, though the grief of the friends and families of the victims is unimaginable. Still, it hits home, or someplace worse than home, for any parent who (as I did, as so many did) had a kid at one of the many midnight screenings of the new Batman movie last night, they having gone to see it the moment it opened. Once again, as so often before, the unthinkable news is disassembled, piece by piece, into its heartbreaking parts. After the Virginia Tech shooting, the horrifying detail, as I wrote at the time, was that the cell phones were still ringing in the pockets of the dead children as their parents tried to call them. In Colorado, you can’t expunge the knowledge of the sudden turn from pleasure to horror that those children experienced. As the smoke bomb went off, some of the kids inside apparently thought that it was a special effect, part of the fun,
until they began to see “people holding themselves.” According to the Aurora police, the suspect, James Holmes, who is twenty-four, was carrying both a rifle and a handgun. The bullets were fired so freely that they penetrated the wall separating one movie theatre in a multiplex to devastate people in the next one.
The truth is made worse by the reality that no one—really no one—anywhere on the political spectrum has the courage to speak out about the madness of unleashed guns and what they do to American life. That includes the President, whose consoling message managed to avoid the issue of why these killings take place. Of course, we don’t know, and perhaps never will, what exactly “made him” do what he did; but we know how he did it. Those who fight for the right of every madman and every criminal to have as many people-killing weapons as they want share moral responsibility for what happened last night—as they will when it happens again. And it will happen again.
The reality is simple: every country struggles with madmen and ideologues with guns, and every country—Canada, Norway, Britain—has had a gun massacre once, or twice. Then people act to stop them, and they do—as over the past few years has happened in Australia. Only in America are gun massacres of this kind routine, expectable, and certain to continue. Does anyone even remember any longer last July’s gun massacre, those birthday-party killings in Texas, when an estranged husband murdered his wife and most of her family, leaving six dead?
But nothing changes: the blood lobby still blares out its certainties, including the pretense that the Second Amendment—despite the clear grammar of its first sentence—is designed not to protect citizen militias but to make sure that no lunatic goes unarmed. (Jill Lepore wrote about the history of the Second Amendment in The New Yorker recently.) Make sure that guns designed for no reason save to kill people are freely available to anyone who wants one—and that is, and remains, the essential American condition—and then be shocked when children are killed. For all the good work the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence tries to do, nothing changes. On the last episode of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” Jeff Daniels’s character, in a scene set shortly before the Gabrielle Giffords gun massacre, was thought to display political courage by showing, accurately enough, that it’s a lie to say that Barack Obama is in any way in favor of gun
control. This was said in Obama’s defense.
Only in America. Every country has, along with its core civilities and traditions, some kind of inner madness, a belief so irrational that even death and destruction cannot alter it. In Europe not long ago it was the belief that “honor” of the nation was so important that any insult to it had to be avenged by millions of lives. In America, it has been, for so long now, the belief that guns designed to kill people indifferently and in great numbers can be widely available and not have it end with people being killed, indifferently and in great numbers. The argument has gotten dully repetitive: How does one argue with someone convinced that the routine massacre of our children is the price we must pay for our freedom to have guns, or rather to have guns that make us feel free? You can only shake your head and maybe cry a little. “Gun Crazy” is the title of one the best films about the American romance with violence. And gun-crazy we remain.
The horror is touched, inflected, by the way that the killings now intertwine with the everyday details of our lives. The killings will go on; the cell phones in the pockets of dead children will continue to ring; and now parents can be a little frightened every time their kids go to a midnight screening of a movie designed to show them what stylized fun violence can be, in the hands of the right American moviemaker. Of course, there have been shootings at school, too. We’re a nation of special effects.