At some point, probably sooner than later, there will be someone who points to a reason why Colorado seems to be a magnet for mass shootings. It’s probably not any more or less inclined to such random incidents than any other place in the country but the Denver metropolitan area now has the dubious distinction of having been the scene of two such horrific incidents, and that will stick.
The locations of these kinds of incidents in recent years have contributed more to the shock of what has happened, I think, than anything else. School campuses like Columbine HIgh School and Virginia Tech University are places we think of as being especially safe, because we trust the safety of our young people to their care. We drop off the kids, or send them off to school, and then enjoy peace of mind knowing they are in a safe and secure place, at least, at one time, that’s what we thought. A suburban grocery store parking lot in a neighborhood shopping center, and a multi-screen theater in the suburbs also seem safe.
My Dad lived in an assisted living complex in Tucson less than a mile from the Safeway store where Jason Loughner opened fire on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and those who had gathered for her “Congress on your corner” meeting. He and my stepmom rode the center’s bus there every week, and did their grocery shopping, as well as taking care of their pharmacy needs at the Walgreen’s next door. I’ve been there myself, and I would have never given a second thought to their safety there. Nor did the families who wanted to add to the excitement of a Batman movie called “The Dark Night Rises” by bringing their children out to a midnight premier. How safe did they feel, to visit the place in the middle of the night? And how doubly tragic it is that such a random act blew that personal feeling of security away, for them and for hundreds of thousands of other movie-goers all over the country.
Conventional wisdom about gun control goes out the window on this one. With essentially no criminal record, and nothing showing up on a background check, this guy was able to walk into several sporting goods stores and purchase the weapons he used without much of a problem. In a dark theater, he released a cannister of tear gas before he began firing. If there had been anyone else in there with a gun, it was too dark and smoky for them to have used it in self defense, not without risking hurting, or killing, other people in the process.
One of the contributing factors to this tragedy is the very design of a multiple screen theater. Built to generate maximum profit with minimal cost, I’ve always thought these places were accidents waiting to happen. The massive parking lots have hundreds of people either coming out wandering among cars after a movie, or cruising around the lot looking for a place to park. In the Texas suburb where we used to live, both of the multi-screen theaters, one with 16, one with 24, had become magnets for purse snatchers and one had been the scene of several assaults and rapes. The idea is to sell ten times as many seats as the old one-screen theaters used to to, using fewer employees per capita to operate the ticket windows and concession stands. Most of the employees are teenagers or college students. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a security guard at one of these places. Now we’ve seen the worst that could happen. The cost has been much greater than whatever money the theater has saved by skimping on security.
It would seem that preventing this particular random act of terror, and that’s what it appears to be at the moment, would have been a matter of some simple security, rather than extensive gun control. I do have to ask how it is that an individual citizen can arm himself like a whole battalion of soldiers, with semi-automatic weapons and ammo cannisters that hold hundreds of rounds, along with smoke and tear gas cannisters and yet not draw the attention of law enforcement, but in this case, if the theater had a security guard on each side of the building, watching the individual exits for people attempting to sneak in, this guy wouldn’t have been able to re-enter with his arsenal of weapons.
My prayers go out to the families of the victims, and to the people of the Denver area, who are traumatized once again about something that has happened in their back yard.