By Ernest Corea
An arsenal of weapons and other materiel in the apartment of James Holmes, the suspect in the Aurora Atrocity, implied meticulous planning for a rampage, and aggressive preparations for its aftermath. Plans and preparations, which included stockpiling ammunition, are likely to have taken months. The apartment was booby trapped to kill the first person – probably a police officer – who would be expected to enter the apartment in search of the suspect and/or evidence.
Aurora, Colorado, a city of some 325,000 residents, was better known up to now for its acclaimed golf links. One and a half minutes of spluttering gunfire changed all that. The gunman left behind a blood-drenched scene of manic violence.
The Aurora Atrocity killed 12 people with no know connection to the lone suspect. Around 60 were injured, some of them seriously. The dead included a six-year old. The injured include a three-month old, asleep in her mother’s arms.
The suspect is a PhD student at the University of California specializing in neuroscience. He was, however, in the process of pulling out of graduate studies.
As It Happened
Numerous accounts from Aurora suggest that the suspect entered the movie house lawfully, carrying a ticket to view the local premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, the third in a trilogy of films based on the Batman comic book series.
Subsequently, he is believed to have left through an exit door and propped it up with a stick. He is said to have returned through the exit, very soon after the screening began. He was masked, and dressed in black, protective clothing. He first activated smoke bombs which covered the theatre throwing the audience into chaos, then opened fire at random, causing death and devastation.
He was arrested later beside his parked car, and one account indicates that he informed the arresting officer about booby traps that would affect anybody who entered his apartment. Since his arrest, however, he has not been cooperating with the police.
Discoveries in the apartment were made possible by technical assistance from federal authorities in support of the investigation by local law enforcement. Colorado’s Denver Post quoted Tim Yacone, FBI special agent as saying at a news conference that the explosives and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices, which are like home-made hand grenades) in the apartment were as dangerous as feared. “The threat is not over, but is greatly reduced.”
A Nation Mourns
Gloom and uncertainty enveloped the nation as it contemplated the causes and effects of the shooting spree. The frenzied political campaigning that had taken place throughout Colorado was temporarily suspended, giving the people of that state a welcome respite. President Barack Obama ordered that flags at all government institutions, nationwide, should be flown at half-staff through July 25, as a mark of respect to the victims of the atrocity and a sign of national mourning.
Obama sent a message of condolences through to strengthen the bereaved and calm the concerns of all Aurora’s residents. He was due to visit the traumatised city on Sunday, July 22. Republican candidate-presumptive Governor Mitt Romney sent his condolences as well.
Obama also spoke at length with the Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper and Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates. FBI Director Robert Mueller briefed Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the details of the atrocity itself and on the continuing investigation. They are believed to have reviewed the extent of federal support that would be needed.
One of the earliest results of federal-state cooperation, as reported above, was the (so far) safe penetration of the suspect’s booby-trapped and heavily armed apartment.
Prayer and Reflection
As the investigation into the Aurora Atrocity continued, Obama said in his weekly radio address: “This weekend I hope everyone takes some time for prayer and reflection – for the victims of this terrible tragedy, for the people who knew them and loved them, for those who are still struggling to recover, and for all the victims of the less publicized acts of violence that plague our communities on a daily basis.”
Much of the prayer and reflection will focus on the event itself: lives lost, people seriously or less seriously injured, old and young alike left numb by the experience…and the incredible inhumanity of it all.
Perhaps even more of the reflection will be on the application of the Second Amendment to the Constitution in ways that caused death and suffering. The Second Amendment recognizes the right of the people “to keep and bear arms,” Some of these reflections have already entered the public domain.
Thoughts on gun violence
Said Jim and Sarah Brady: “We are praying for the victims and their families in Aurora and understand the pain they are feeling and will feel for years to come.” (Jim Brady, a former Press Secretary to President Ronald Reagan, received gunshot wounds during the attempted assassination of Reagan. The wounds left him with impaired speech and paralysis.)
They added, in part, that “Congress has done nothing since the mid-1990s to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. We pledge to keep fighting the NRA and entire gun lobby in an effort to strengthen our background checks to include all firearm purchases, ban assault clips with large magazines that enable mass killers, and to make it more difficult to obtain concealed carry permits.”
Zooming off in a different direction, Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas said in a radio interview that the Aurora Atrocity was caused by “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian belief”. He also wondered aloud why nobody in the theatre had a gun to take down the shooter.
The prospect of People in the audience pulling out their concealed weapons (permitted in Colorado) and shooting wildly through the smoke into whoever they perceived was a perpetrator of violence is mind boggling. Surely, many more deaths would have resulted.
Writing from afar, Salman Rushdie declared that the right to bear arms “is the real Bane of the American people,” punning on the name of a character in The Dark Knight Rises.
New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomed the consoling words of the presidential candidates but added that they were inadequate. “It is time for action,” he said. Many will agree, as they consider the grim and grisly record of the recent past.
Time for Action
Consider this brief summary record:
1999, Columbine, Colorado –13 killed, 24 injured at a high school;
2007, Virginia Polytechnic Institute – 32, 17 at a university;
2009, Fort Hood – 13, 29 at a military establishment;
2011, Tucson, Arizona – 6, 14 outside a supermarket.
And now, the latest, but who can tell whether it is also the last, Aurora.
In response to the Aurora Atrocity, some legislators have been discussing draft legislation that would tighten gun-usage without weakening the Second Amendment’s guarantee of “the right to bear arms.” Measures tightening the process of gun sales and ammunition are among the possibilities that many gun-usage control advocates support.
One of the legislators supporting new laws, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat from New York, told The Hill online that “opponents of gun control have a simple but effective strategy following gun violence tragedies.”
The strategy? “They will wait it out, wait it out, until people forget about it again, until another happens….We should be proactive before another tragedy happens. There are ways of doing this without infringing upon anyone’s rights.”
(McCarthy’s husband was killed and her son wounded by gun violence on a train in 1993.)
The Hill said that as one of the weapons used in the Aurora Atrocity was an AR-15 semi-automatic, questions might be raised as to whether the assault weapons ban signed into law by President Bill Clinton and allowed to lapse under President George W. Bush should be reactivated.
Meanwhile, the apex gun-lobbying organization, the National Rifle Association (NRA), issued a laconic statement on the tragedy: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the communities. NRA will not have any further comment until all the facts are known.”
As McCarthy predicted, the gun lobby is in its “lying doggo” phase, as British forces used to say in the past. The rest of the country cannot afford to follow that lead – unless they want more blood-splattered tragedies to repeat the death and destruction of the brutal Aurora Atrocity. [IDN-InDepthNews – July 22, 2012]
*The writer has served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon ‘Daily News’ and the Ceylon ‘Observer’, and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore ‘Straits Times’. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.