Saturday, July 21, 2012


The story arc following the mass shooting at a movie theater in Colorado is following a very predictable pattern.  Having lived professionally as a talk host, producer and electronic journalist for much of the last 30 years I have, depressingly, seen this all before more than a few times.  The story begins with the shock of the incident itself, the first, often erroneous, reports about the shooter, the number of victims, and the weapon or weapons used.  Then the trickling out of information about the shooter.  Then the weapons used and how they were obtained.

What follows almost immediately is the same old argument about gun control.  How is it that an obviously mentally ill man can walk into a gun store and buy an AR-15 (the civilian version of the M-16 rifle) and, within only a few days, buy two Glock automatic pistols, a shotgun, and thousands of rounds of ammunition without anyone trying to stop him or anyone monitoring these unusual purchases? 

First, it will be pointed out that the suspect passed the federal background check when he purchased the weapons because he had no criminal record and no record of institutionalization for treatment of mental illness.  Then the story arc will move quickly to the second part, which is the fact that these weapons are available for civilian purchase.  That will lead to the same arguments by the same people and exploited by the same groups to benefit the same politicians as all the arguments following all the other mass shootings in recent American history.

Eventually, the story will move on to the issue of how we deal with mental illness.  The shooter's whole life story will be picked over, and many friends, colleagues and family members will be interviewed and reveal all sorts of disturbing details about his life and actions.  In retrospect, it will all be so clear that this young man was seriously disturbed, and columnists and pundits will talk endlessly of how we fail to properly treat so many who desperately need treatment.

Finally, the story will center around our "culture of violence".  This line of attack will be used by those who wish to assail our primarily liberal-dominated popular entertainment industry as well as by those who wish to splatter mud on conservatives and the "Tea Party" movement.

In the end, of course,we will be left right back were we started.  Democrats will attempt to pass more stringent gun control laws.  Republicans will block them when they can.  Financially strapped cities and states will not expand mental health services.  In fact, it is rather more likely that those services will be cut.  In any event, we will probably learn that the shooter would not have fallen into any category that would have made him eligible for treatment, even were he motivated to seek such treatment.  Political operatives on both sides will seek to use the story for their own purposes, with some success, but not so much as to change the basic political balance.  The shooter will be tried and convicted, with the very remote possibility that he will be found mentally unfit for trial.  In either case, he will spend the rest of his life in some form of confinement (Colorado has the death penalty, but they have not executed anyone since 1997, and have only four people on death row).

In the end, we will move on to other controversies, until another lone, mentally unstable young man walks into another theater, or stalks another campus, or a restaurant or shopping mall, and opens fire.


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