On July 20, 2012, bullets fired from guns held by James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58 more. The Smith & Wesson assault rifle, two Glocks and Remington shotgun used in the shooting were easily acquired over the sports shop counter in Colorado.
The next day, in a rare display of bipartisanship, President Obama and US presidential candidate Mitt Romney sent a clear message: in such moments of national need, they would suspend political bickering and work together to reassure anxious constituents.
Obama and Romney promptly resorted to silence, as they sought to comfort the real victims of this tragedy: concerned gun owners worried that massacres like Aurora could adversely affect their access to assault rifles.
Campaign surrogates emerged in their stead to reassure people that they had little to fear and that, despite an understandable degree of shock at the bloodshed, at a closer glance, there was really nothing to worry about.
Refusing to bow to cliché calls for more gun-control, Democratic Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper reminded us on CNN that things could have been a lot worse. “If there were no assault weapons available and no this or no that, this guy is going to find something, right?” He added: “He’s going to know how to create a bomb.”
Gov. Hickenlooper makes a powerful point. Had laws prevented James Holmes from buying guns, he simply would have used a bomb (perhaps even an atomic one) and killed many more people. This “glass-is-half-full” perspective on what many have termed a tragedy is a helpful one. We should not forget that, we are, in fact, extremely lucky to live in a country where assault weapons are available in sports shops in order to prevent worse crimes.
Sen. Harry Reid employed his own methods of tamping down calls for a gun control debate. Rousing advocates to aggressive non-action, he urged them to actively, “wait and see how this plays out.” Thursday he dangled another carrot, suggesting a debate might be appropriate, perhaps next year, when he’s less busy.
Presidential candidate Romney himself continued his deft side-stepping of the media’s attempts to trick him into directly answering a question. When asked about the shooter’s easily assembled arsenal, Romney refused to take the bait, redirecting the discourse to his focused 1-point plan to eradicate gun violence: “changing the heart of the American people.”
While Democrats and Republican should be commended for their unified messaging, both must acknowledge a debt to the NRA. Armed with more than two centuries of incontrovertible data, the NRA has proven that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. They remind us that only by having a population of good guys carrying guns will we be able to stop bad guys with guns.
The real problem, as eloquently suggested by Gov. Hickenlooper, is that there may not be enough guns in “good” hands. On this point, it has been noted that, curiously, no one in the movie theater fought back - or shot - James Holmes as he fired into the movie theatre. This leads to the logical conclusion that there were no NRA members, or other armed citizens, in the theatre on July 20 who were prepared to stop the bloodshed.
While it is refreshing to see Obama and Romney in sync with the oldest civil rights organization in the US, one must step back and question whether each and every one of the NRA’s positions is reasonable and appropriate. In a recent interview, Steve Schmidt, Republican consultant and former chief strategist to John McCain, warned that people “absolutely will not take on the NRA.” Interest groups who are jealous, or awed, at the NRA’s influence should stop complaining, and instead examine why the NRA is the most powerful lobby in the country. It may be because they have guns…
Still, some critical of the NRA believe that the organization is too soft when it comes to gun laws, and laws in general. These critics make a fair point: if we have determined as a nation not to outlaw assault rifles, why have any laws at all?
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