I am breaking two pledges to myself this morning. First, I was not going to add my voice to the hysteria surrounding the shooting in Aurora, Colorado yesterday. Secondly, I was going to take a day off from blogging to reflect on the events of that dreadful day. But here I go, adding grist to the mill.
The event itself has been covered in depth by the media and we will be hearing again and again about the “tragedy” — that overused and misunderstood word — until we are sick of it. There will be calls for gun laws — as there should be when a young man can walk into a store and buy an automatic weapon that fires off “50 -60 rounds in a minute” — not to mention the other weapons he had in his possession. We will be hearing from his neighbors what a “nice young man” he was — a “bit quiet” and “a loner.” At this point no one knows why James Holmes did what he did, as though you could probe the motivations in a sick mind and come up with anything that makes sense.
But what astonished me most as I watched CBS News last night with mouth agape and wonder in my eyes was the interviews with some of the people who were there. One young man in particular was interviewed carrying a three-month old baby and standing next to his wife and two young children. It occurred to me: what on earth was this man thinking taking those young children — and that baby — to a movie at midnight that promised to be violent from beginning to end? What is the matter with us that such a thing would seem perfectly normal?
We don’t know for sure whether watching violence makes us violent, though there is considerable evidence that there is a connection, if not a causal relationship. All animals learn from imitation and humans are animals. It follows that we also learn from imitation. And if we see violence on TV, in the movies, and in our video games hour after hour it would be reasonable to infer that we might be encouraged to walk into a store, buy an automatic rifle and a couple of handguns with some of our extra cash, and plan a shooting. The wonder is that it doesn’t happen more often!
The gentleman who moderated the news program began the show by calling this the “largest killing in the history of this country.” This is hyperbole if it isn’t downright false. What about the killing of thousands of native people? What about the Civil War? What about our long history of killing one another? We are a violent people and have been since we landed on this continent. No one quite knows why though I do think it has to do with our tendency to solve problems with weapons rather than with our minds — comparing our detective shows with those that come out of Britain, for example. And it also has to do with the escalation of violence in the media that surrounds us on every side, as Michael Moore suggested when he probed the causes of the Columbine shooting. But I don’t profess to know THE cause. I just know that the climate we live in promotes violence and when it occurs as it did in Aurora, Colorado on July 20,2012 we shouldn’t be too surprised — though we should most assuredly reflect deeply on the implications of such acts.