Unfortunately, this morning was marked by an instance of actual news. In Aurora, Colorado — the state’s third largest city — a gunman opened fire at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. As told by eyewitnesses, the gunman entered from the back entrance of the theater, released two canisters of tear gas, and began firing into the crowd. Police have captured the shooter and released his name—James Holmes, age 24. At least 14 people have been killed, and 50 wounded.
Unfortunately, people have already begun to speculate about the motives of the shooting — Was it terrorism? Was it race-related (Aurora is only 47 percent white)? — and wonder about the political implications, i.e., “should we talk more about gun control?”
We don’t have enough information to make a judgment about what happened, much less use it to argue any point. What’s more, there’s something disrespectful in the rush to debate; let’s mourn for the victims before we begin to argue causes or consequences. It may well be the case that this shooting warrants a renewed national conversation over the wisdom of loose gun control. But it’s important to recognize the extent to which stricter gun laws aren’t a solution that will do away with mass shootings. If you are determined to kill a lot of people, you’ll find a way to meet your goal; after all, illegal guns work just as well as legal ones.
Finally, I want to second tech writer Anil Dash when he suggests that we look at this from the perspective of our culture and not our politics. He writes, “We marginalize & neglect our sons when they feel vulnerable, stigmatize depression & schizophrenia, and treat violence as entertainment.” Does the easy availability of firearms make mass shootings more likely than they otherwise would be? Probably. But Dash hits on a more important truth: Our treatment and understanding of mental illness is not a priority in our culture, especially when it comes to men, and it should be. What’s more, even when it comes to mentally healthy men, there are few socially acceptable ways to express their fears, their pain, and their anxieties, and boys are still raised to reject emotional expression as somehow un-masculine. “Stop crying, be a man” is still a thing that parents say to their sons, and it’s incredibly destructive.
If we really want to know why the Colorado shooting happened — or why men make up the vast majority of mass shooters — we might want to move our focus away from politics, and towards a discussion of the kind of culture we live in.