Colorado shooting: Holmes was so odd, how did he get guns legally?

John Kelly
Columnist July 23, 2012

In a way, it would almost be better if the person who allegedly killed 12 people in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater had been a terrorist. That, at least, we could understand.

I mean, the terrorists are crazy, too, but at least it’s become a familiar, semi-graspable crazy. It’s a well-organized insanity that involves networks of other conspirators, coded messages, suicide videos, etc. Each step of the way toward their planned martyrdom is an opportunity for infiltration or disruption.

It’s much harder to stop a single, committed person whose brain chemistry is tragically unbalanced, as seems to be the case here.

News reports have said that James Holmes bought his arsenal legally. But did he really? The mentally ill aren’t supposed to own guns, and is there anyone who thinks this guy wasn’t wrong in the head? He supposedly was odd enough to creep out a Colorado gun range owner.

A report last year from the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that states aren’t doing enough to stop the mentally ill from getting firearms. After the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, the Wall Street Journal reported that the bar for banning someone from owning a gun is awfully high.

I’ll say the same thing I thought after Seung Hui Cho went on his murderous rampage at Virginia Tech: How about requiring a co-signer for your gun license? This could be a family member, a friend, a co-worker, anyone who could swear he knew no reason you shouldn’t have a gun.

I’m sure it wouldn’t stop every mentally ill person bent on destruction, but surely it would stop the friendless loners — or at least deprive them of an easy way to kill.

There are probably Second Amendment absolutists who would say this measure would be too much of an affront to our constitutional rights. And so we’ll just continue to accept that the price for having a well-regulated militia is that homicidal maniacs will be able to buy guns as easily as buying tickets to a movie.

Repeat after me: Scam

“Don’t tell Dad.”

That’s what the grandson of an 80-something reader from Bethesda named Paul told him. The grandson had been arrested with some friends in Ontario, Canada, and drugs had been found in their car. An Ontario police officer had put the wayward youth on the phone after telling Paul to wire $2,800 to secure the prodigal grandson’s release.

Paul has a grandson, several, in fact. But none were in Ontario. The whole thing was a scam, a quite persistent one, given that Paul has received a similar phone call three times over the past four months. Thankfully, he hasn’t bitten.

In May, my colleague Michael Rosenwald reported on a similar scam in Frederick County. Scammers with just enough information call elderly folks and spin tales of woe.

“In these times, it’s so much easier to get personal information,” Officer Rebecca Innocenti of the Montgomery County police told me.

Don’t fall for it.

“They’re preying on your desire to help a loved one out,” Innocenti said. “They don’t want you to think whether this makes sense. They want to pressure you. You just need to slow down. . . . You can always say, ‘What’s a phone number I can call you back at?’ ”

In other words: Tell Dad.

Branching out

I decided that we will always be at the mercy of the trees. Unless every tree whose height is within reach of a power line is cut down, I don’t see how you eliminate the possibility that an errant oak or maple will plunge a neighborhood into darkness.

Pepco is budgeted to spend $28 million this year trimming trees. But maybe Pepco would be better off developing more durable wires and transformers or using that money as a war chest to quickly pull in crews in the wake of the storm. I think $28 million would buy a lot of skilled labor.

Send a Kid to Camp

Just four days left in our campaign for Moss Hollow, a camp for at-risk kids from the Washington area. Our goal is $500,000. Our total so far is about $278,833. Now is a perfect time to give. A donor is matching all gifts, up to a total of $100,000. And Clyde’s is again offering gift certificates. Donate $150 to $249 to Moss Hollow and receive a $25 coupon for Clyde’s, the Hamilton, the Tombs or the Old Ebbitt Grill. Donate $250 or more and get a $50 coupon. (Certificates will be mailed in early September.)

To donate, go to washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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