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Mass murder at midnight


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IN the felicitously named Coloradan township of Aurora late last week, 12 American citizens — ranging in age from six to 51 but most of them in their 20s —did not live to see the first light of the morning after a night out at the cinema.

Several of the 58 hospitalised with gunshot wounds were reportedly struggling to survive.

The alleged perpetrator looked dazed and confused when he appeared in court on Monday morning. Although he had surrendered calmly in the car park outside the cinema after the homicidal rampage, police said he wasn’t being cooperative.

There has, inevitably, been considerable speculation about the 24 year old’s state of mind, based largely on hearsay, but the overarching theme of much commentary has been that there were no obvious warning signs. Acquaintances describe him as a shy and innocuous young man who largely kept to himself. He had been working towards a doctorate in neuroscience but was in the process of dropping out. His only previous run-in with the law involved a speeding ticket.

It may, of course, never be conclusively established exactly what motivated his shooting spree, although the available evidence certainly suggests the act was planned well in advance, and that the occasion — the first showing, at midnight, of the latest movie in the Batman franchise — wasn’t exactly coincidental.

Yet it seems fatuous to pretend that there were no warning signs. In the couple of months leading up to his unspeakable actions, James Holmes acquired four weapons: a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and two handguns. He purchased them at local weapons stores. He is also believed to have spent thousands of dollars on buying 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet.

The shooting spree was thus preceded by a shopping spree. Should that not have rung an alarm bell or two, even in a country where the right to bear — and buy — arms is considered sacrosanct?

No prominent politician in the US has uttered a word about gun control since the Aurora outrage. President Barack Obama visited the township at the weekend, offering condolences and words of consolation, but without referring even obliquely to the laws that facilitate mass murder.

Sure, acts of random violence, sometimes on a huge scale, occur even in countries with considerably tighter legislation concerning the sale and possession of small arms. Norway, to cite but one example, has just commemorated the first anniversary of the Utoya massacre. But one of the reasons they are comparatively rare is that the means of perpetrating them are relatively hard to come by.

It’s extremely unlikely that anyone in Norway even thought of suggesting a year ago that if only all of the young victims had been armed, the fascist-minded Anders Breivik could have been stopped in his tracks. Yet a number of American commentators have made an analogous claim with reference to Aurora. Surely there is something profoundly perverse about such an argument being nonchalantly aired in a purportedly civilised country, let alone one that aspires to moral leadership on a global scale.

Just last month, the American news website The Daily had this to report about Obama’s home city (whose mayor is the president’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel): “The streets of Chicago are officially more dangerous than a war zone: homicide victims in the Windy City outnumber US troops killed in Afghanistan this year. While 144 Americans have died in Afghanistan in 2012, a whopping 228 Chicago residents have been killed, and the murder rate is up a staggering 35 per cent from last year.”

The Law Centre to Prevent Gun Violence, meanwhile, cites other discomfiting statistics: “In 2009, guns took the lives of 31,347 Americans in homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings. This is the equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day and more than three deaths each hour….

“Between 1955 and 1975, the Vietnam war killed over 58,000 American soldiers — less than the number of civilians killed with guns in the US in an average two-year period. In the first seven years of the US-Iraq War, over 4,400 American soldiers were killed. Almost as many civilians are killed with guns in the US, however, every seven weeks.”

In a comprehensive article in The New Yorker titled ‘Battleground America’, Jill Lepore argued last April that justifications for the weaponisation of American society are based on a misinterpretation of the second constitutional amendment, and that the gun lobby — led by the National Rifle Association —has consolidated its strength particularly in the past four decades.

Interestingly, however, the “nearly 300 million privately owned firearms” in the US belong to a shrinking number of households.

It’s not just wealth that is unevenly distributed in America, so are weapons. “In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households … in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.” If four-fifths of households choose not to own arms — and presumably many of them would rather not have others bear them either — surely there’s scope for political and moral leadership on the issue.

But apparently not in an election year. Not even in the face of the latest evidence of the horrors that more or less unrestricted gun ownership can entail. It’s easier to treat each calamity as some sort of a natural disaster: tragic, but ultimately unavoidable.

Aurora has renewed debate about whether the extreme violence portrayed in films such as The Dark Knight Rises and virtually encouraged in so many video games feeds into the societal malaise. It may be more worthwhile to ponder how America’s propensity for unleashing violence in foreign lands feeds into warped minds at home.

Whether the realisation will ever dawn on lawmakers that the sort of liberty that enables sophisticated killing machines to be purchased off-the-shelf is incompatible with the right to life and the pursuit of happiness remains an open question. As does another that was raised a half century ago: “How many deaths will it take till they know /  That too many people have died?”

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (8) Closed

cautious Jul 25, 2012 03:23pm
Your comparison between soldiers dying in Afghanistan and deaths in Chicago is interesting but here's one that might put it in perspective --- your chances of dying by suicide in the USA army is greater than dying in Afghanistan --- the reality is that that deaths USA/NATO death rate in Afghanistan is extremely low.
Prem Mishra Jul 25, 2012 03:40am
Another brilliance from Mr Ali. The travesty is such that when, such incident, takes place that doesn't translates into the 'unique phenomenon' but doesn't raise any alarm.And, aftermath of such incident in US, pouring condolences and showing rage is a real absurdity not because any specific reason but the only reason is that its the common feature every now and then in different geography in so-called most civilized nation. The 'Gun mafias' in the name of 'second amendment' are so strong that even president failed to stop them.From congress senator to the juries, who passed decision when any such case reaches the courts, all hooked with them(The mafias) because with every murder they earn wealth for them. One should read John Grisham legal thriller, Runway Jury which adapted into a thriller movie as well how 'Gun mafias' work. Pity for the countrymen that in the name of humanity the greedy capitalist system gives them the dead bodies of their loved ones and they get the sheer condolences repeatedly.
Cyrus Howell Jul 25, 2012 06:16am
"It may be more worthwhile to ponder how America’s propensity for unleashing violence in foreign lands feeds into warped minds at home." You would have to take that up with the Pentagon. We are born and we must die. Not a lot we can do about that. A woman's husband can kill her just as dead with a barbeque fork as a gun. It is about intent, not what one uses for a weapon. A bomb in the market place - 12 dead, 51 wounded - what's the difference?
saythetruth Jul 25, 2012 12:09pm
No true this does not happen in a blue moon this is very usual in USA. If I were you I will be very careful living in Ohio following are some numbers for your Ohio State and USA in general. 2011 total documented murders 14784 in one year, it is not small number and just look a the crime rate.
ArshadPatel,Ohio,USA Jul 25, 2012 07:15am
Aurora tragedy happens once in a blue moon as crazy people exists everywhere in the world. But the regular targeted killings in Karachi, honor killing in Punjab and K P, killing of innocent people in Baluchistan, Terrorism and political murders are completely different from Aurora tragedy. Above all, In USA there is a law which is followed from the ordinary citizen to the president. No jungle law like Pakistan, where: SHOW ME THE FACE AND I 'LL TELL YOU THE RULE.
Adeel Ahmed Jul 25, 2012 08:28am
very nice article apart from innocent killings of the American people Coloradan township of Aurora late last week, the statistics of the American killing is pretty shocking and surprised for me.. such kind of information definitely shaken the believes ordinary persons whose dream is to go America and serve them..
conflicted Jul 25, 2012 09:42pm
Isn't the author is suggesting a context and a reason for killing in Pakistan that, somehow justifies it. The fundos do it for religion; patriarchy explains honor killing; dacoities and robberies have a basis in economic exclusion... But, lest the author forget, the 'hathora' group went on a killing spree not long ago; a crazy from Lahore set records in serial cannibal; little boys and girls get raped and murdered with impunity, mullahs included. Shouldn't we start looking inwards -- US bashing is becoming exceedingly boring.
Anand Jul 25, 2012 11:05pm
Nice article. So true. A message to all muslims --> Please stay away from America. DONT apply for Visas. It is .. such a terrible place. Any place in the world, especially where you live in Pakistan, is safer than "Battleground America". Thanks