By now you’ve probably all heard about the Aurora, Colorado, shooting at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. As I’m writing this, 12 people have died and another 58 are wounded, and I fervently hope that number hasn’t changed overnight. There are many ways to react in the face of such tragedy, but time after time you can count on certain tropes that range from merely missing the point to outright hateful.
Racism/Islamophobia. One of the first issues the media felt they had to address was whether or not the shooter had ties to Islamic terrorism. Did anyone really think that overseas terrorists were going to target, of all things, a Batman movie in a fairly ordinary city in Colorado? It’s not exactly a high value target on the international scale, but mentioning it feeds into the notion that Muslims are our most dangerous enemy. Once we got that stunning revelation out of the way, the reports were remarkably silent as to the racial identity of the shooter. When crime suspects aren’t white, the news usually mentions their race fairly prominently, but when the suspect is white, his or her photo speaks for itself.
Victim blaming. Among the audience members at the theater were several children; 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan was killed, a 3-month-old baby was shot but survived, and many others escaped with their families. Take a look at the comments on any story about this and there’s a chorus of comments along these lines:
The people making this sort of statement usually fall into two camps. To the people who just really hate kids interrupting their movies, this is not the time to go airing those grievances. Other commenters are parents trying desperately to believe that nothing like this would happen to them because they would never take their kid out so late. Sadly, horrible things happen every day and making the parents feel worse for trying to do something fun with their kids is just cruel; they feel guilty enough already. Whether or not The Dark Knight Rises is appropriate for young children or whether kids should be up that late period is entirely irrelevant to the shooting. Blaming the parents for putting their kids in danger is completely ludicrous because no one expects the movie theater to be dangerous, not even the people without kids. James Eagan Holmes is the only person to blame in this situation.
Another set of victim-blamers question why no one fought back. Mike Adams of Natural News.com wrote
Again, I’m not blaming the people there, I’m just bewildered that nobody fought back. It doesn’t make sense. Unless, of course, the very fabric of American culture is now so passive and afraid that people have forgotten how to take action in the face of fear.
The article is filled with that sort of mean-spirited blustering and worse, and I really recommend against reading it. I have zero patience for anyone saying that people are cowards for trying to get away from a damn assault rifle. Even if people wanted to tackle him, it’s not exactly easy to get through movie theater aisles in the best of conditions, much less in that sort of chaos.
We need more guns! After every mass shooting in this country, there are people who insist that the situation would have ended so much better if only people in the line of fire had been carrying guns. Some people go so far as to turn this into a single-issue political career, as in the case of Luby’s shooting survivor and former Texas State Representative Suzanna Gratia Hupp. In the Aurora shooting the introduction of more guns almost certainly wouldn’t have helped and would very likely have resulted in more casualties. The theater was dark and filled with smoke from the grenades Holmes had set off, people were running in all directions which lessened the likelihood of anyone getting a clear shot, and he was dressed in body armor that would have protected him even if anyone had managed to fire at him. More guns create more chaos, because how are the police (much less other observers) supposed to know whether all of the shooters are co-conspirators or merely trying to help? One of the men who disarmed Gabrielle Gifford’s shooter was very nearly shot himself by someone who ran across the parking lot to help and saw him holding the gun he had helped take away from Jared Lee Loughner; in 2009 an off-duty cop with his gun drawn was killed by fellow officers in Harlem while pursuing someone he’d caught breaking into his car. The presence of more guns doesn’t necessarily equate a better outcome, and there are way too many things that can go wrong to make any sort of blanket statement like this.
This is just a setup to take away my guns! In the wake of any shooting tragedy there are calls to finally do something about the huge number of guns on our streets, and this inevitably leads to hysteria that the government is going to start marching into people’s homes and taking away all of their guns. Just, no. The assault weapons ban passed by Clinton ended the sale of the sort of high-capacity clip that Holmes used in his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, but the ban expired in 2004 and manufacturers were quick to reintroduce all the weaponry that suddenly became legal again. If the legislature can’t even be bothered to renew sensible legislation like the Brady Bill, what makes people think that all of a sudden they’re going to decide to take away all the guns? The NRA alone spent $2.9 million lobbying Congress last year, along with huge donations to political campaigns (88% of which have gone to Republicans during this election cycle). Yes, there’s always a public outcry for better laws in the wake of these tragedies, but that’s only because nothing happened every other time a mass shooting happened. The guns aren’t going anywhere. Even worse are the conspiracy theorists who think the government planned the attack to further its supposed agenda. There’s so much wrong with the following picture that I can’t even wrap my head around it.
Ableism and armchair diagnoses. As of Sunday afternoon when I’m writing this, the police in Aurora haven’t released any information about Holmes’s motives or mental health, but that hasn’t stopped speculations. Countless articles wonder if he was depressed or even struggling with his sexuality; “experts” who have never met Holmes suggest that he’s a paranoid schizophrenic; columnists wring their hands about the failure to treat the mentally ill. And as usual, you’d best gird your loins before wading into any internet comments on the topic. But we don’t yet know if he’s mentally ill or if so what his diagnosis might be, and speculations of this sort further stigmatize conditions over which people have no control. The vast majority of mentally ill people will never have any sort of violent outburst, and it does them a disservice to arbitrarily assign illnesses to a killer with no evidence to back up the allegation. Do we need better support for people struggling with mental illness? Of course, but for right now that has no place in this discussion.
Gaffes. In the rush for the news networks to be the first to bring breaking news, sometimes they really put their foot in it. It’s understandable that in the chaos following such events there are bound to be mistakes in the details, such as the initial reports of 14 dead being revised to 12. But we do expect some degree of accuracy on facts that are easy to confirm. ABC had to issue an apology after claiming on air that James Eagan Holmes was a member of the Colorado Tea Party Patriots; in fact it was 52-year-old Jim Holmes, no relation. Other people unfortunate enough to share a similar name have been harassed on Facebook. And maybe the most horrifyingly insensitive gaffe came in the form of the following tweet:
The tweet was deleted several hours later and the company issued several apologies, claiming that they never actually looked to see why Aurora was trending and blaming a PR team outside the U.S.
The Blame Game. And of course, no tragedy in America would be complete without looking for completely absurd things to blame it on. There are claims that the fault lies in the violence of the movie itself, or that old canard, video games. Texas Representative Louis Gohmert says it’s due to “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” Pastor Rick Warren blames evolution in a tweet reading: “When students are taught they are no different than animals, they act like it.” And lest we think that only conservatives can draw wild conclusions about motives, here’s a list of tweets blaming Rush Limbaugh for connecting the villain Bane to Bain Capital. The mind, it boggles.
With all these distractions flying about, it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters: the people who were killed, injured, or simply terrified due to the inexplicable actions of James Eagan Holmes, and the families of those affected. The 12 people who have died thus far are:
- Jonathan Blunt
- A.J. Boik
- Jesse Childress
- Gordon Cowden
- Jessica Ghawi
- John Larimer
- Micayla Medek
- Matt McQuinn
- Veronica Moser-Sullivan
- Alex Sullivan
- Alex Teves
- Rebecca Wingo
May they rest in peace.