Life After the Aurora Shooting

Don't let the jokers win.

"Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying," the Joker tells the district attorney whose fiancée he just killed at a hospital he’s about to blow up in the film The Dark Knight. Last Friday, a gunman walked into a midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire, killing at least 12 and shooting more than 50. Theaters in New York City and around the country quickly increased security for The Dark Knight Rises, though despite the tragedy, the film hit $165 million in its opening weekend, short of industry expectations of $190 million but still firmly in blockbuster territory.

Tragedies like these follow a familiar cycle. Because they are disruptive and out-of-the-ordinary, they receive an abundance of media coverage, which in turn gives life to stalled agendas while birthing new ones. The president addresses the nation, articulating feelings many people share. We mourn the victims, even though they are strangers to us. We ask why it happened, and what can we do to keep it from happening again. 

We have been doing all of this for a very long time. 

America’s first modern mass murderer was Howard Unruh, who killed 13 people in 12 minutes on the streets of Camden, New Jersey in 1949. He was 28. He served in World War II. Could it have been the war that drove him to kill? (Unruh documented the circumstances and details of every German he killed in battle). Could it have been movies? He saw a double feature, The Lady Gambles and I Cheated the Law, the day before the killings. (He thought one of the actresses, Barbara Stanwyck, was one of his neighbors.)

Unruh was eventually diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and ruled insane. At the time, it made him immune to criminal prosecution and he spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital. He died in 2009.

And what about the perpetrator of the Aurora shootings? There’s no easy answer, but free agency demands that the responsibility lay with the shooter. Some are asking how we can change public policy to prevent this from ever happening again. If access to guns did it, control them, if video games did it, censor them, if a certain kind of movie did it, stop making that kind of movie. They’re rousing suggestions, but insufficient. The mass murderer in Norway killed more than 70 people in a country with fairly strict controls on guns. Howard Unruh killed when many of the pioneers of video games were still in diapers. 

Mass murder has been happening for millenia; a recently published research paper suggests a mass grave found at the archaeological site at Titris Hoyuk in present-day Tukey was the result of a mass killing—19 people, including three women, two children, and an infant—more than 4,000 years ago.

What's much more remarkable is that we live such safe, predictable lives. After all, if access to guns, video games, and violent movies regularly inspired mass murder, America would be a wasteland. 

Society works because we trust each other to be sane. In the 24-hour media storm after the Aurora shootings, perhaps the sagest commentary (at least that I heard) came from TMZ’s Harvey Levin on Fox News’ America Live. He said: "[w]e have been seeing this increasingly, where everyone's kind of trying to understand this guy to figure him out. At a point, you're not going to be able to do that, because you gotta be crazy to do what he allegedly did... These weak links exist, it is just a part of living in this world, and the issue is do you become agoraphobic, do you shut yourself in hermetically or do you take the chance of living your life?"

If we base our attitudes, our policies, or our way of life in response to the actions of a few jokers, then the nuts will have won.

Ed Krayewski is an associate editor for 24/7 News at Reason.com.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Broseph of Invention||

    Good stuff, Ed. With regard to mourning strangers, I don't blame anyone for blocking events like this out. People go through shit everyday, yet are expected spare an extra tear for people they never knew. I get that this is a particularly senseless tragedy, but that's no excuse to through our sense of proportion out the door. Who knows how many more lives have been lost due to traffic fatalities from fear of flying or the gropy TSA than in 9/11. Dilute risks are hard enough to weigh without moralizing hysteria thrown on top of it.

  • Broseph of Invention||

    *throw

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  • Ed||

    Thanks. I agree. I live in Newark and we've had 3 shootings since Friday. Understandably people around here didn't get too choked up over Colorado.

  • Libertarian||

    Anyone familiar with the memorial pic? Why the flags??

  • ant1sthenes||

    If it's Aurora, several killed were soldiers.

  • ||

    This will have hacks and scum attempting to politicize it, and as soon as they can't milk it for partisan/special interest benefit any more it will be forgotten.

    Just like always.

  • SIV||

    1927 isn't "modern"?

    Even Cho couldn't top Andrew Keyhoe's record

  • SIV||

    "Kehoe"

  • ||

    Holy shit, that guy makes most suicide bombers look like total schmucks. He was fucking serious.

    And it was all about property taxes.

  • SIV||

    "proto-teabagger"

    He was also bankrupted by "healthcare" costs.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    This is hilarious:

    The Ku Klux Klan said that the actions of Kehoe, a Roman Catholic, were the result of his adherence to the stance of the Roman Catholic Church against "Protestant or godless schools."[19]
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  • ||

    And it was all about property taxes.

    If you're gonna go to war with the government over an injustice like property taxes, then go to war with the government, like Carl Drega did. Leave the kiddies out of it.

  • SIV||

    Drega went to war against the government.

    Kehoe went to war against his community.

    I don't think anyone has any sympathy for Kehoe.

  • tarran||

    Don't do what Drega did. All he did was hand his enemies a propaganda coup.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Interesting. Never heard about Kehoe before. Also interesting is that there is kind of a liberty angle to the whole thing:

    The bomber was school board treasurer Andrew Kehoe, 55, who was enraged about a property tax levied to fund the construction of the school building. He blamed the additional tax for financial hardships which led to foreclosure proceedings against his farm. These events apparently provoked Kehoe to plan his attack. He died in a car bomb he set off after he drove up to the school as the crowd gathered to rescue survivors from the burning school.
  • SIV||

    I never heard of the incident until 1995.The context was McVeigh broke one of Kehoe's records.

    As far as "records" for violence go, Baby Face Nelson still holds the "most FBI agents" title.

  • ||

    This struck me:

    .H. Buck, a foreman, and some men crawled through a broken window of the farmhouse, searching for any survivors. When it was discovered no one was in the farmhouse, they salvaged what furniture they could before the fire spread into the living room. Buck soon discovered dynamite in the corner of the room. Buck immediately picked up an armful of explosives and handed it to one of the men.

    Can you imagine rescue workers today doing that? As soon as they saw the dynamite, they would clear out and get everyone away and wait for the bitch to burn down, rather than take the risk.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Stuff was a lot more expensive to build back then.

  • SIV||

    Dynamite was a lot less scary too.

  • Alex the wolf||

    I dont think this can be totally prevented, but probably some kind of guns shouldnt be allowed
    What do you need a weapon that not even the army uses for?

  • Hugh Akston||

    To shoot at the army.

  • ||

    Don't forget zombies and hostile aliens.

  • Hugh Akston||

    We already have the ultimate weapon against those threats: Will Smith.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • ||

    Uh, Hugh, the infected in I Am Legend aren't zombies, they're more like vampires. Way to go. Not only did you not get that right, you've probably psychically inspired Will Smith to do his own version of Re-Animator so he can shit on another classic author.

    Good job, jerk.

  • SIV||

    Vampire zombies or zombie vampires. They clearly straddle both categories. I suppose the ones that are merley sick are more vampire while the reanimated ones are more zombie.

  • ||

    Look, there are no reanimated people in I Am Legend. Hugh made one of the classic blunders, which, after the two everyone already knows, includes "never watch a Will Smith movie".

  • Hugh Akston||

    The only reason Robin Williams has never been in a zombie or hostile alien movies is that nobody would believe that aliens or zombies could last for 90 minutes against Robin Williams.

  • sloopyinca||

    In theory, they could have looped one of his albums instead of "Indian Love Call" in Mars Attacks! It would have had the same result.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Re: Robin Williams - I thought he was good in Insomnia. Of course, he was playing a creepy child murderer, and Nolan was directing.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    "never watch a Will Smith movie"

    Sorry, Epi - but we like "Independence Day" for the USA!USA!USA! lulz, and "MIB" for the Tommy Lee Jones/Will Smiff contrast.

    Otherwise, yeah, he kinda sucks. "I Am Legend" was disappoint, no doubt.

  • SIV||

    I never saw that movie. I was thinking of the book and the first film adaptation.

  • Ted S.||

    It's not as if the Stale Prince version of I Am Legend is original anyway. Reference the Vincent Price movie if you're going to reference a movie and not the original short story.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Vampires are just zombies that get chicks.

  • ant1sthenes||

    If the army isn't using a weapon, it's probably not because of its extreme lethality.

  • sloopyinca||

    Life after the Aurora shooting will be the same as life before the Aurora shooting: sometimes good things will happen to people and sometimes bad things will happen to people. And government will try to use both those good and bad things to grab more power and take more control of our daily lives.

    Great piece though, Ed. Well put together.

  • Ed||

    Thanks! After any tragedy like this my mantra is generally "don't everybody freak out now"

  • Emperor Wears No Clothes||

    Yah, the last thing we want to do is panic.
    So what is US Americans are murdering each other at the rate of 10 a day with guns. Let's not do anything rash. Like re-evaluate the love affair with your dick extensions.
    You people are sick and refuse to even acknowledge it. In fact, I think you revel in it.

  • ||

    Hmm, a weak effort. I'd say...C+. Not terrible, but could have been a lot better.

  • sloopyinca||

    So what is US Americans are murdering each other at the rate of 10 a day with guns.

    [citation required][please compare the rate with other nations]

    Let's not do anything rash. Like re-evaluate the love affair with your dick extensions.

    I have no "love affair" with my guns. They are tools I use, the same as a rake or a hoe or a shovel. Sure, I enjoy being skilled in using them, but that's more a satisfaction in knowing that I will be completely capable of defending myself, my loved ones and my property if or when I'm required to do so. I'm also happy that agents of the state will be forced to think twice when they try to take our rights away, because they know many of us are armed and skilled in the use of those weapons.

    You people are sick and refuse to even acknowledge it. In fact, I think you revel in it.

    Yeah, I would hope many of the people on here revel in not panicking. It's a decent human quality to not over-react to rare but tragic situations. I felt the same post-9/11, post-Katrina and post-The Phantom Menace.

  • Tulpa the White||

    And most of those "murders" are accidents and suicides, of course. Even before we get to self defense.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stringier.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    So what is US Americans are murdering each other at the rate of 10 a day with guns.

    You mean only 3,650 people die from guns in a year?

    Awesome! That's 565,840 less than people who die from cancer every year!

  • sloopyinca||

    So what is US Americans are murdering each other at the rate of 10 a day with guns.

    And less people die from "violence" (all types) than die of measles every year. You are also more than 3x as likely to die of diarrhea-related diseases than all types of violence. Are you just gonna sit idly by and let Chipotle kill Americans in numbers the Brady Campaign can only dream of?

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: The Poster Wears No Brains,

    Y[e]ah, the last thing we want to do is panic.


    You can go ahead and panic. And cower under your bed, for all I care.

    So what is US Americans are murdering each other at the rate of 10 a day with guns.


    I dispute your figures. Killing a robber before he enters my house is not the same as murdering him. Besides, more people die because of suicide, and a lot of suicides are due to self-inflicted gun shots. As far as *I* know, you can't murder yourself.

    Like re-evaluate the love affair with your dick extensions.


    Yeah, women love those.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Actually, we're just trying to evaluate risk rationally rather than let ourselves be emotionally manipulated into a position where already powerful people are even better able to exploit us.

    We aren't terribly concerned with whether our choice of self-preservation instrument bears some symbolic similarity to the prime instrument of evil in feminist mythology; if pitchforks were the state of the art in middle-class self-defense, we wouldn't care overmuch about their alleged Satanic nature either.

    Of course, I don't think the ideology that champions the gender that created an entire genre of literature based on sexual attraction to murderous, cannibalistic reanimated corpses has anything credible to say about self-preservation instincts anyway.

  • Vapourwear||

    Logic, it's probably like, Philosophy 104 or something. Take it.

  • Registration At Last!||

    So as Radley Balko would say: "Another Isolated Incident"?

    "Move along, nothing to see here people"?

    Maybe there is something deeper going on.

    And maybe it merits more than a shrug of the shoulders.

  • sloopyinca||

    **shrugs shoulders**

    Maybe not, Mary.

  • ||

    No, Ken, that's Gabe. He's a different sort of retard than Mary.

  • sloopyinca||

    It's extra funny because he's named after one of the most famous murderers of the 20th Century and the man that almost single-handedly started WWI with a gun.

  • Generic Stranger||

    No, it's definitely Mary. Someone called it out Mary by name, and Registration At Last answered. It's as pretty clear as it gets.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Well, 90% anyway. I suppose it's possible that Registration At Last is so retarded that he or she answers to other people's names. You never know.

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  • Ed Zeppelin||

    Like re-evaluate the love affair with your dick extensions.

    what about women who own guns?
    go get your shine box

  • Generic Stranger||

    Penis jokes are all the antis have. The facts and public opinion are all against them, so they gotta act like ten year olds who just heard of Sigmund Freud.

    (Freud was kind of a crackpot, and most of his theories have fallen out of favor, but he did associates retarded sexual and emotional development with a fear and loathing of weapons).

  • Pagan Priestess||

    Can't remember who said this, but it always brings a smile to my face:

    "Course I'm compensating. If I could kill people at 300 yards with my dick I wouldn't need a gun."

  • Generic Stranger||

    That's a popular one with gunnies. I also like "I carry a gun because I can't carry a police officer".

  • jason||

    I do not know why all these types of mass killings only happen in the USA mainly there are lots of things happen in the America, few years back a student kill the multiple collage students in mass killing i forgot his name this happen somewhere in the small town. I think the reason behind it too much media coverage and to much guns in the wrong hands.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Not sure if spambot or just dumbass.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L.....ge_killers

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