The shooting incident on July 20th in Aurora, Denver will go down as one of the bloodiest incidents of random violence in American History. On that Friday night, 24 year-old James Holmes walked into a local cinema at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises and opened fire on a packed audience, leaving 12 people dead and 58 critically injured. Among the dead; Ashley Moser’s six year old daughter Veronica. Moser was also pregnant at the time but has since suffered a miscarriage. Her life still hangs in the balance. Holmes has been charged with 12 counts of murder with extreme indifference and 112 counts of attempted murder. His trial will begin in a few weeks time. What possible motivation could that young man have had to commit such a horrific act? More importantly, how was he able to carry it out?
This is not an isolated incident. When I listened to the news bulletins reporting on the shootings in Denver last month, my mind immediately flipped back to Columbine High School in 1999. There, two students opened fire on class mates and teachers killing twelve and injuring many others. The incident sparked huge debate on the issue of gun control in the United States and while many furious arguments have been played out by both sides since then, the White House has failed to introduce any meaningful legislation to restrict the availability of fire arms.
As an Irish person, it is difficult for me to fathom how such deadly weapons are so freely available in the United States. Guns have never been accessible to the general public here, so I accept that I am approaching this debate from a slightly skewed viewpoint. But my argument must still stand. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that as long as guns are easily accessible on the American market, violent killings like those that took place in Columbine and Denver will continue.
Pro gun campaigners in America argue for their right to bear arms. Their rational is based on the idea that guns don’t kill people; people kill people. I have never been comfortable with this argument because it simply does not stack up. Collated evidence and statistics from all around the world suggests that in countries where gun capacity is restricted and proper controls are in place, the percentage of deaths that are attributable to fire arms reduces accordingly. Yes, it is people who ultimately pull the trigger, but using a gun is the easiest mechanism available to end someone’s life. Remove the gun out of the equation and you immediately make it more difficult for a person to kill.
This is a societal issue for America. On one hand, many want to preserve the right to bear arms and defend against attack, yet whenever mass shootings occur – and they happen much more frequently then the headlines in Ireland would suggest - there is shock and widespread public anger. In my opinion, the United States cannot have it both ways. Guns are lethal weapons. If a person with homicidal thoughts decides to walk into a gun shop and purchase a firearm, what is the likelihood that he will succeed in his endeavour? Similarly, if that same person was unable to obtain a gun in the first place, how likely is it that they could follow through with their intentions?
There is a simple rationale for thrashing this argument out. Gun enthusiasts and NRA members in America will argue that they should not be held accountable for every nut job and psychopath that decides to open fire on random strangers. I’m not so sure. For me, this is a question of preference. Does one American citizen’s right to bear arms supersede another individual’s right to life? What is more important; the preservation of life or the right to own a gun? If the answer is the former, and I suspect it has to be, then the issue of protection and gun control must be addressed and the White House must introduce reform.
James Holmes is potentially facing the death penalty in Denver. His trial will undoubtedly focus on his mental state at the time of the shootings and I am pretty confident – judging by his demeanour in his two court appearances so far – that his defence team will push for him to be declared insane. Regardless of the verdict or the sentence imposed, it is only a matter of time before America will have to deal with another such incident in the future. Guns have been glamorised in American society for as long as anyone can remember. From the Great War generals and officers in American history to the popular western heroes in Hollywood movies; guns have always had a role to play in the United States. That role must now be capped. It is a simple choice; give up the right to own a firearm or continue to lose innocent lives at the hands of the people like James Holmes. There are many others like him and disposing of one problem will not prevent another.