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Friday, May 22, 2015

The Killing Joke

The Killing Joke is the title of a pivotal Batman comic book in which the Joker bursts into Police Commissioner Gordon’s home and shoots his daughter Barbara – who is secretly Batgirl – permanently paralyzing her. It was a shocking, brutal, heinous act of a depraved heart, worthy of the legislators of Colorado.

You may recall the Joker’s connection to Colorado. As I wrote in my blog entitled The Dark Night Rises on the day it occurred, a murderous sociopath dressed as the Joker walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire on the audience viewing the premiere of the Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises”. The gunman, dressed in black body armor and a gas mask, lobbed gas canisters into the theater, creating panic and confusion. He then sprayed the trapped movie-goers with a hail of bullets from an array of weapons that included an AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun, and a .40 caliber Glock handgun. Barbara Gordon got off lightly compared to his victims. This pathetic excuse for a human being, truly a waste of his father’s sperm, killed 12 people –  including a four-month-old infant – and wounded 58 others. Today, he is in a courtroom on trial.

Someone else has been in the courtroom throughout the trial with him. Sandy Phillips wears a green scarf to court every day. It belonged to her 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Ghawi… whose brain matter was scattered across the popcorn ridden floor of the Aurora movie theater that day. She’s sat in stoic silence, as her daughter’s friends described her last moments of life before she was butchered in what should have been a safe place: a movie theater. It’s a place where, until now, violence was relegated to the screen, and parents didn’t think twice about their children’s safety. After Aurora, our naïveté was banished. No place is safe. Not even the most prosaic venues that fill our lives: not our offices, coffee shops, shopping malls, or even movie theaters. Not even elementary schools. Parents kiss their children goodbye each morning, not merely because they love them, but because in the back of their mind a small but persistent voice reminds them this could be the day they send their child off to Columbine, or Sandy Hook, or even just the local movie theater.

Jessica’s mother wanted to hold someone responsible. Not merely the obvious perpetrator of the crime, but those she believed had facilitated his murder spree: the Websites that had sold the guns he used to kill her daughter and the others. So Sandy sued them in federal court in Colorado … and lost. You might think that was the end of the story. But you’d be wrong; it was only the beginning.

The gun lobby is a powerful force, both in federal government, and in many states and  state legislatures. In Colorado, the legislature passed a law that applied only to cases brought against gun manufacturers. The statute is called The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and provides if the party suing a gun manufacturer or retailer loses the case, then that party is responsible for all the legal fees. So far, the only plaintiffs to have been penalized under this Draconian statute are Sandy and her husband, Lonnie. Senior U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch dismissed the case under both Federal and Colorado laws designed to shield gun manufacturers and retailers from liability for injuries caused by individuals who buy their products. But he didn’t stop there. Following the Colorado statute, he ruled that these grieving parents must pay approximately $250,000 to the Websites that sold the guns that killed their daughter.

It sounds like a sick joke. But it’s not. It’s a killing joke. It’s an affront to decency and humanity. It’s a monument to naked ambition and greed that enable lobbyists to buy and sell our legislators like Batman trading cards. It is a sign that our society, now more than ever, truly needs a caped crusader to restore justice. But the Dark Knight is mere fantasy; the reality is that the dark nights that Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, and the other families of the Aurora theater killer’s victims, must face for the rest of their lives are eclipsed by the even darker days brought about by the people whom Colorado voters elected to serve them, but who instead sold their souls to the gun lobbyists.

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