The last time Colorado experienced something like this, I was in a newsroom in Missouri with a kid who would later become a good friend and the best man at my wedding. It was 1999 and he was a junior in college. I, all of 24, was in my first real job as staff editor and adviser.
Adam was from Colorado and he knew the area surrounding Littleton. He still had friends in that area. He had connections to that zone based on football rivalries, overlapping proms and other such things that happen to bring high schools from across the state together.
We weren’t covering it locally, as my boss had a (correct) view that having a shit ton of people three states away reacting with “It’s just a terrible tragedy” quotes doesn’t make for decent journalism. Thus, all we could do was watch the AP wire as it came in and stare agape at the TV that hung from a ceiling-mounted swivel near the copy desk.
It turned out that he didn’t intimately know anyone involved. Family members, friends and vague acquaintances appeared to have been spared. He never really spoke of it, though I could see something in his eyes that showed his world had changed a little. The wounding was over, but the scar would remain.
His home state would ever be known as “that Columbine place.”
In the wake of this shooting, everyone agreed on two things: 1) this was a terrible tragedy and 2) something must be done so it would never happen again.
This morning, as I was working in the garage, the radio’s 103-second news update (No shit. 103 seconds. No wonder we’re fucked as a country.) led with the shooting in Colorado. It was a quick hit on the way to other things like Winneconne’s Sovereign State Days and the weather. The announcer didn’t seem to change tone or break stride.
I went inside to read about this and found out that we don’t know anything about this guy.
He was 24.
He was about 6 feet tall.
He apparently owned a rifle, a handgun and some body armor.
He went after people in the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight.”
Why did he do this? We don’t know. However, rest assured, we will quickly be told all the answers by the pundits, the talking heads and Wayne LaPierre.
The Today Show is already yammering on about the movie’s “dark culture.”
I’m quite certain if he had started shooting up “Ice Age 3,” we’d be having a serious morning-show discussion on the impacts of climate change.
Reactions from government officials will be swift. There will be discussions about our gun laws and how easily a whack job can obtain a gun. There will be legislation to ban guns or concealed-carry. It won’t pass because a) the NRA owns everything and b) the slogan “Guns don’t kill people. People do.” will rise up and Jedi mind-trick everyone into thinking this guy could have done this with a Louisville Slugger if he really put his mind to it.
Banning guns isn’t the answer any more than electrifying the fence at the Mexican border is the answer to our immigration issues. If you don’t believe that, watch “Bowling for Columbine” again and get back to me.
Reactions from movie people will be swift as well. People will dither about how costumes need to be banned, as this guy just appeared to be a costumed weirdo, who was in no way a threat to anyone until he started shooting. Eventually, you will be asked to put on a “Marcus Approved Robe” made by the company that produces those fine paper gowns you wear at the doctor’s office when getting a physical.
People will argue that we are a violent culture and we must find a way to fight back, never once seeing the irony in that statement. Colorado is a death penalty state, so rest assured, this guy will be up for the chair or the needle or whatever it is that makes us feel humane in ending a life. They will kill this guy slowly and deliberately to show how much gravity the situation has. They will also silently take perverse pleasure in it, much like someone who manages to ground the fly that has pissed him off for an hour, but not kill it. Finality will now come on his terms.
The death of the insect will be vengeful, as will this man’s inevitable demise.
Why the man did this is unknown. Why we react this way is easy to understand.
When faced with something incomprehensible and tragic, we look for ways to rationalize it. We try to figure out if the guy’s little league coach yelled at him too much or if a priest touched him. We then stop giving a shit about him and start becoming actively self-interested.
We don’t want to be that next group of people watching a movie wondering if the guy next to us in the Darth Maul mask actually has a working light saber he’s going to kill us with. We are like the three idiots in Spaceballs who start screaming “Do Something!” when Mega Maid goes from suck to blow.
We panic. We demand. We say, “Never again!”
In an attempt to keep their seats in congress, their positions running corporations and their sense of control, those we turn to fire off a salvo of actions that have the same logic and accuracy as the shooter’s bullets. They figure if they tighten gun restrictions or make us remove our shoes or scan us for gun powder before we can order a latte, everything will be fine. They delude themselves into believing that they can control everything that could possibly hurt us.
They tell us, “There! We fixed it! It won’t happen again.”
And we go back to thinking everything is fine.
Until the next time.