Dark knight of the soul: In the aftermath of 9/11, we were exhorted to get back on the plane and fly. Otherwise, we were warned, they would have won. And we would have let them. So I flew. But now, in the bloody aftermath of the Batman shooting spree, I’m not sure I can rally myself to watch the latest Dark Knight masterpiece. Maybe I’ll wait for its release on DVD. In this case, don’t pretend to know who they are, but I’d say they clearly have already won. In the United States, we have rendered groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda superfluous. What they would do unto us, we already do unto ourselves. James Eagan Holmes was yet another in a long line of quiet, intelligent loners who opted to crank up the volume when confronting a life of quiet desperation that apparently loomed before him. Or something like that. Colorado public officials are now suggesting that the media should not utter Holmes’s name. The notoriety, we are told, is what people like him crave. Deny it, and they won’t get the pay-off.
That’s a solution?
The next time some troubled introvert starts flinging hot lead in a crowded public space, I kind of doubt the cone-of-silence treatment will offer much cover. But for some things, the silent treatment has been all too effective. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m still astonished by all the talk I’m not hearing, however watered down, about gun control. Not a peep. Even knee-jerkers on the subject, like U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, have learned to shut up. It’s an election year. The National Rifle Association has money and knows how to take candidates out. Gun control — in any form — is so dead that no one bothers to bother anymore. Instead, we’ve been told by leaders of both parties, spend time with our families. Hug our children.
It used to be a mass murder like this would have occasioned some pretense of legislative remedy. In 1981, a crazed gunman in love with Jodie Foster — apparently he didn’t know she was lesbian — shot and nearly killed then-president Ronald Reagan. That eventually gave rise to what’s known as the Brady Bill, which requires background checks for prospective gun-buyers. In 1993, an unsuccessful middle-aged entrepreneur who claimed to have been the victim of monosodium glutamate poisoning got off an Oakland elevator on the 34th floor and shot to death eight employees of a prestigious law firm. Investigators would later discover the gunman meant to get off on the next floor up. Senator Feinstein seized upon the incident to win passage of a federal assault weapons ban. That bill would expire 10 years later, after efforts to prevent its expiration failed.
In the 10 years that bill was on the books, the number of semiautomatic weapons involved in murders declined by 66 percent, but the absolute number of murders still increased. Gun control, I readily admit, is an imperfect solution. If you’re determined enough, there are lots of ways to kill. UCSB mass murderer David Attias used his car, after all, to kill four people 11 years ago. But guns are easier. Santa Maria’s Lee Leeds — just sentenced to 100 years for killing his father and three others — used a gun. So, too, did Jennifer San Marco — the quintessentially disgruntled (and clinically paranoid) former postal employee — who shot and killed seven people in 2006, six of whom worked at a Goleta post office.
Strangulation, bombs, and knives are frequently cited by gun-control opponents, and yes, all are deadly. It’s worth noting that of the 11,500 people murdered every year, only one percent are strangled. Choking, it turns out, is very labor intensive and must be continued long after the victim blacks out to achieve a deadly result. And for whatever reason, poisoning and bombing never gained traction, accounting for less than .01 percent of all violent deaths respectively. Though knives are used in 13 percent of all homicides, guns — fast and convenient — account for 68 percent. Of the 11 people shot every hour, 1.3 are killed.
It’s been suggested that if we all packed heat, we could take care of business when the next whack job flips out. Perhaps. But if I showed up at the Cineplex locked and loaded, there could be problems. I might be too inclined to go Emily Postal on some of the chatty cathies who provide unsolicited running commentary. Some gun control opponents have even suggested that body armor might become a necessary fashion craze. But for the price of a full get-up — complete with crotch-n-collar protection — I’d rather buy an Armani. And besides, body armor makes everybody’s ass look fat.
The most devastating critique of gun control, of course, has been the staggering incompetence of those charged to enforce it. It’s no doubt true that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is now under attack by opportunist demagogues. But given the fatal ineptitude of the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” sting operation (in which federal agents sold semiautomatic weapons — equipped with faulty tracking devices — to Mexican drug cartels, which were then used to kill other federal agents), the demagogues and opportunists are entitled. When Amazon predicts with routine accuracy what books I want to read next, it’s hard to fathom how Colorado’s red-haired, wannabe Joker could order 6,300 rounds of ammo on the internet and not trigger any alarms. But that’s typical for Big Brother: never there when you need him.
Like all the trigger-happy massacres that came before, this will be forgotten. No one need tell us not to mention James Holmes’s name; we will have forgotten. Anderson Cooper’s graveside intonations notwithstanding — and all the purple balloons in the sky — nothing will be done. What’s different this time, no pretense at effort has been made. So get with your families and hug your children. But while you’re at it, pat them down. Make sure they’re not packing.