Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Batman Shootings

News of the so-called Batman Shooting at a cinema in Denver has shocked the world over. Spree shootings, especially in America, are nothing new, but somehow this one feels a lot less detached than what came before it. Partisan politics has thankfully been kept out of the issue, but a select few conspiracy nuts, like Alex Jones, have seen fit to invoke the theory that the shootings were a false flag operation by President Obama, in order to weaken the Second Amendment.

I first heard of the shootings on Twitter, before major news outlets had coverage. One of the confirmed victims was cadet sports reporter Jessica Ghawi, aka Jessica Redfield, whose last ever tweet was about waiting for The Dark Knight Rises to open. Just a month earlier, she had blogged about surviving the Toronto Eaton Centre mall shooting.

The alleged shooter has been identified as James Eagan Holmes, a post-grad neuroscience student at the University of Colorado-Denver. Far from being a gang member from a broken home in the 'projects' - the stereotypical image of a gun criminal in America - Holmes' background was the opposite. He hails from a stable upper-middle class church-going family, with academic achievement and sporting prowess to his name, no criminal record, no history of mental illness, no ties to extremist groups, nor any inklings on popular Internet sites. Yet his motives remain a mystery. He was described as 'shy and intelligent' by those who know him, but unlike Jared Loughner and the Columbine High shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, it remains unclear as to whether Holmes had a history of bullying or being bullied. In any case, Holmes' shooting spree is made all the more scarier by the fact that no one saw it coming because he doesn't overtly look like an 'other'.

Holmes purchased and stockpiled large amounts of semi-automatic firearms, ammunition and tear gas in the lead-up to the shootings, and supposedly rigged his apartment with explosives. In the state of Colorado, with one of the most lax firearms regulations of any American state, no permits are required to purchase firearms, but Federal background checks are still required - which he passed. Holmes also made his purchases from different outlets each time, as well as over the Internet, which circumvented laws on repeat purchases. Still, we license and register cars and drivers, so surely it wouldn't be much to ask for the same with firearms - were it not for the power of the National Rifle Association. Holmes also dyed his hair red and claimed he was the Joker during the shootings, which at best implies some kind of Walter Mitty fantasy gone horribly wrong.

It brings to mind Brenda Ann Spencer, who, as a teenager in San Diego in 1979, fired a semi-auto rifle - given to her by her father on Christmas the previous year - killing two people and injuring 9 others. When asked why she pulled the trigger, Spencer said, "I don't like Mondays; this livens up the day." Spencer later claimed she was under the influence of drugs during the incident and endured sexual abuse at home, but that was not backed up by official evidence or members of the judiciary.

It also raises the question of the Second Amendment's relevance in the 21st century. It's nothing to do with the legit pastimes of hunting in the wilds or hobbyist gun collectors, as the National Rifle Association and its loyalists would have you believe. The Second Amendment was written in mind with a repeat of the British invading again, when rifles and cannons were the most powerful weapons available. Since then, jet fighters and aircraft carriers have made America the world's most powerful military nation - and the world's last remaining superpower - which effectively makes the Second Amendment a museum piece. And there's a disconnect between "deterring tyrannical government", and the plummeting voter turnout in US presidential elections.

After the Dunblane massacre, Prince Philip asked if cricket bats would be banned because they could be swung hard enough to kill people. The keywords here are, "when used as directed". You can indeed kill someone with a cricket bat if you swing it hard enough, but cricket bats weren't designed for that purpose. They were designed to help gentlemen in the British Commonwealth to socially bond and represent the pride of a nation. Whereas firearms, to state the obvious, are explicitly designed to kill people.

The NRA argues that guns don't kill, only people do. They're right to a large degree, but it's a lot easier to kill someone with a gun than with fists or knives. They also argue that criminals will hold fire if they know the citizenry carry pistols in their pockets. But what if the crims, instead of waving the white flag, swap their pistols for assault rifles? It would be little more than mutually assured destruction, downscaled to a domestic context.

"Arms race" by Mike Moreu

And they argue that Columbine High and Anders Breivik would never have happened in gun-friendly states like Texas. Oh yes, it has happened - it's called the Wackos from Waco. And the controversy over George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin - armed with nothing more than a bag of Skittles and a cup of iced tea - has tested the "Stand Your Ground" laws to the limit.

As with cars and sex, fascination with them is perfectly normal, but obsession with them is not.

No comments:

Post a Comment