Gun Massacre in Aurora: Are we missing the point?

Release Date: 
Friday, August 10, 2012

Op-ed by Dexter Voisin, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration

On July 20, 2012, terror rained down on dozens of folks watching the “Batman” premiere in the city of Aurora, Colorado. No doubt, this horrific news story, which has been described as “the largest mass shooting in American history,” will continue to dominate future discussions about gun ownership and control. However, are we once again missing important points and the opportunity to learn imperative lessons from these unfortunate events?

Undeniably, America’s firearm death rate is eight times higher than that of other industrialized nations. Daily, more than 85 Americas die from gun violence. Yearly, more than 30,000 Americans are murdered, 73,000 wounded and virtually millions impacted by the psychological and social consequences of gun violence. We spend up to  22 billion dollars in direct and indirect costs every year due to gun related murders and injuries (Krug et al., 2002). Moreover, firearm deaths are the leading and second leading cause of mortality for African Americans and Hispanics ages 15 to 23 respectively. We can add many more startling statistics to this sobering list.

However, important points are often lost in our “knee jerk” discussions attempting to make sense of these senseless acts of violence such as this, Columbine and the 15 other mass gun murders in America since 1991. The general public has forgotten many of these. As a society we often look at these and similar incidents in isolation. We often fail to connect the dots; we compartmentalize their occurrences and frequently fall short of acknowledging our own culpability in the larger equation and solution to this problem.

Few of us react defiantly when countless of our youth are murdered daily on American streets -- especially when it involves white-on-white, brown-on-brown and black-on-black gun slayings. Where in such instances are the national coverage, the rallies and the impetus to hold our elected officials accountable? There are too few examples. However, we vehemently rally and protest when such killings “are bold enough” to cross racial lines such as the recent Trayvon Martin case. How are we able to go about privileging in such strange ways certain types of violence as “abnormal” and in other instances making other “abominations” acceptable? What message are we sending our youth about the value of certain human lives?

This past July 4 weekend, 52 persons we shot and 7 murdered in Chicago—a footnote for many. Too often extreme violence has become a common occurrence in many of America’s cities. However, we are foolish to think that if we ignore the senseless gun violence taking place in our inner cities that it would not have a contagious effect on our pristine and protected city areas. For an illustration, we only need to look at Chicago and the recent rash of gun violence taking place on our affluent “Magnificent Mile.”

Concerning the Aurora, Colorado mass murder, without a doubt there is no shortage of blame that will go around over the next few days and weeks: the culpability of the National Rifle Association, the violent media and popular culture. We can also add possible childhood upbringing, the lack of common sense federal gun policies, politics and political ineptness. Not to mention our appetite for violence as a culture and that we fail to have public discussions about mental illness. No doubt, we can all add many other items to this list.

When will we connect the dots and realize that addressing senseless gun violence is not an inner city, Black, White or poor issue but an American concern? Without doubt, all sides must come to the table—the powerful gun lobbyists and those who advocate for stricter gun control. This is not only about protecting our second amendment rights but also enacting sensible gun control laws: necessary measures to protect way of life as Americans and ensure our future national security. Metal detectors have already become fixtures in our airports and many of our schools. It is time to say enough.

James Holmes, the 24-year old who was arrested and is alleged to have committed the Colorado mass murder, reportedly described himself as the “joker.” The costly joke is on us all if we fail to connect the dots and miss our opportunity to act.

Krug, E. G., Dahlberg, T. T., Mercy, J. A., Zwi, A. B. & Lozano, R. 2002. World Report on Violence and Health., World Health Organization: Geneva.