Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Night Rises

One evening, as Dr. Thomas Wayne, his wife Martha, and their little boy walked out of a theater, a gunman accosted them, demanding their valuables. Accounts vary, but Joe Chill shot and killed Dr. Wayne, and his wife died, either from gunshots or a heart attack. The only survivor of, and witness to, the horrible events of that dark night was their young boy, Bruce, whose life would be consumed by a grim determination to protect society from those who would perpetrate such evil and senseless violence on the innocent. Thus was born the Batman. In a stroke of grim irony, 73 years later, life imitated art. A gunman 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 shot gun, and a .40 caliber Glock handgun. Another Glock was found in his car. All of the guns used were purchased legally within the past six months. The 24-year-old shooter booby-trapped his one-bedroom apartment with a maze of explosive devices, rigged to explode when someone opened the door, and placed blaring music on a timer, set to play at midnight, ensuring someone would arrive to do so. Such extensive premeditation was not the work of an insane mind, but an evil one. Under the legal definition of insanity, to be determined insane and thus unable to stand trial for one's actions by reason of insanity, an individual must be unable to tell right from wrong. The shooter knew right from wrong; he chose wrong.

Like a Batman film, the script writes itself. A hue and cry emerges urging gun control measures be passed, or at least restored. A ban on assault weapons like the one used by the shooter was allowed to expire in 2004. That ban had outlawed the AR-15 used in what is now the worst mass shooting in American history, in which 12 people -- including a four-month-old child -- were killed and 58 wounded. President Obama has done nothing to control the proliferation of dangerous weapons within this nation's borders. In fact, he has relaxed gun laws, allowing people to carry guns in national parks and to carry guns in their checked bags on Amtrak trains, and has proposed reducing restrictions on exporting guns and other "items with military uses". His presidential campaign opponent, Mitt Romney, has stated his opposition to gun control legislation. The cry for gun control always arises after a shooting. We heard it in 1981, when James Brady and President Ronald Reagan were shot; we heard it in 1999, when two students shot to death 13 of their classmates at Columbine High School and wounded 23 others, mere miles from the Aurora theater shooting; we heard it in 2007, when another student shot and killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus; we heard it in 2009, when a gunman killed 13 people and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood; and we heard it in 2011, when a gunman in Tucson, Arizona shot 19 people outside a supermarket, including a federal judge and Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, killing six of them, one a nine-year-old girl. Born of righteous  indignation, the hue and cry for stricter gun control resonates loudly, full of sound and fury but in the end signifying nothing, for nothing will change. There will be no strict gun control in America. That portion of the script has been written by the National Rifle Association, a powerful political lobbyist, and no edits are allowed.

The media adhere to their script, as well. This is "The Big Story". On every channel, there is but one news story: the Aurora theater shooting. Even when there is nothing new to report, the talking heads continue repeating what they have already said, because this is, after all, "The Big Story". Even with 24-hour news coverage, "all news all the time" channels, the script is firm on one point: no other news is allowed to be reported on a day when there is a "Big Story". No other murders occurred that day, no rapes, no robberies, no tornadoes or hurricanes, no floods or monsoons, no scandals, no foreign affairs, no economic news, no reports on the environment or public health or scientific developments. Whenever an event is deemed "The Big Story", the media's script calls for wall-to-wall coverage of only that, even when all that can be said at that moment has been said. Just as on a slow news day when minor events become "news", on a day when "The Big Story" occurs, minor and major events cease to exist.

The public sticks to the script as well, expressing its collective shock at the horrific tragedy. They are good actors, appearing to express genuine surprise that a culture -- overflowing with gratuitous and extreme violence in its music, television, movies, and video games -- that inundates its children with such "entertainment" inculcating them with little respect or regard for human life until they are inured to scenes of mayhem and death, might result in young adults who become sociopathic killers. Computer programmers have a phrase for it: "Garbage in, garbage out." Or, as the Bible phrased it, "As you sow, so shall you reap." Our society continues sowing the seeds of its own destruction and as we watch these shootings, we are reaping the harvest.

I have veered from the script today. As a journalist many decades ago, I was taught to begin any story with the 5 Ws: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and hoW (the last, the unofficial 6th W). In the hundreds of news stories I've written, this is the first time I've left out the "who". I've deliberately not named the Aurora theater shooter (or any of the other shooters) because I choose not to give the killer one more second of his 15 Minutes of Fame, or in his case, infamy. The only publicity I would like to see him receive for his heinous act is his public execution. It should be broadcast as a deterrent, so all those tempted to commit such acts realize the gravity of the fate that awaits them. And it should be painful. As painful as the grief of the families and loved ones of the murdered victims. As painful as the shattered lives of the hospitalized survivors, many of whom will live with permanent damage from the shooting: brain damage; paralysis; or loss of vision, hearing, or limbs. No, I won't print that scumbag's name. He doesn't deserve that iota of dignity.

Batman is a fictional character, who rose like a phoenix from the ashes of personal tragedy to make society a safer place. We are real people -- can we do no less?

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