I woke up on Friday and saw my home state in the headlines for another mass shooting. As I read the emerging details I could not help but think back to Columbine High School and the faces of survivors as they poured out of the building on that awful day.
The details keep emerging on both sides, details of the victims and of the perpetrator. Our path to understanding the victims and their families is clear–immediate compassion and a sense of outrage that anyone should ever have to experience such a trauma and tragedy.
Our path to the gunman is less clear. The images of him in court with his wide open stare, asking guards how the movie ends, seem to show a man in shock and out of touch with reality. But there is another image, one that cannot be escaped, and that is the vision of him standing in a darkened theater, firing his guns over and over into a terrified and innocent crowd.
What do we do with the gulf that exists between the gunmen in the dark and the young man in court? What do we do with the reality that everything he used to slaughter a crowd was gained legally? What do we do with the culture that promotes punishment for violent acts while simultaneously romanticizing and glamorizing violence?
This tragedy is not just about any one issue; its complexity should not be reduced because it is painful to look at. It points us again to a trend of violence that is supported by nonexistent gun control, a violence glamorizing culture and the incredibly easy ways for people to live in isolation.
We are failing and yet we do not seem ready to write a new dialogue around this tragedy that opens doors for a different future.
James Holmes was living a life we all recognize–the up and coming graduate student–and yet within that ordinary life the fantasy of mass murder was becoming a reality, one gun purchase at a time.
To really honor the victims and the families of all the mass shootings we need to ask some hard questions and be brave enough to come to conclusions that challenge the notion that the Second Amendment is untouchable, a court verdict is the only thing that will heal the community, and the gunman should be despised for his violence while violence in general is cool, hyper-masculine and necessary.
To honor the victims and their families, let us dig deep and not be afraid to see the big and small ways we can create a path forward–a path that reduces the risk of anyone of us standing outside a movie theater, waiting to find out if our loved one lived.