Miscellaneous Thoughts Occasioned by the Aurora Shootings




First of all, I’m not a gun nut.  Not even close.  My father was a fairly serious hunter, my extended family are very serious hunters, and my brother, though he seldom if ever hunted in his last decades, loved guns.  (He was a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.)  I went hunting a few times, and I learned from a very young age to be quite comfortable around weapons.  I own several guns myself.  But I never really caught the bug, and I don’t use my guns.  And gun issues are far down my list of political priorities.


That said . . .


The gunman in Aurora plainly chose, when the option was placed before him by police, not to die in a gun battle.  He apparently wanted to live.  He surrendered.


So how would events have turned out differently had one or two or three people in that theater audience possessed concealed carry permits and a reasonable amount of practice with pistols, and been armed at the time?  How many lives might have been saved?  Had the gunman known that there was a serious likelihood that he would be shot fairly early in his rampage, would he have even undertaken it in the first place?


I saw a poster the other day asking how many gun-related murders have occurred at gun shows.  The answer, according to the poster, is “zero.”  Which is probably correct, or very nearly so.


I served my mission in Switzerland, where practically every adult male is actively involved with the military, is required to do regular weapons practice, and owns at least one serious, military-quality gun.  The rate of violent crime in Switzerland is minuscule.  Apart from obvious political episodes, the same, I think, is true of Israel.


I’m made nervous when various places announce that this church congregation, or that park, or this stadium, or that business, is a gun-free zone.  I’ve never, truth be told, felt any urge to pack heat at sacrament meeting.  But why announce that nobody at such a place is carrying even legal weaponry?  That seems to me an open invitation for the occasional loon to come into a place where he’s going to have absolutely free and leisurely opportunity to kill as many people as his bizarre fantasies or resentments move him to murder.


Many years ago, Barry Goldwater was asked whether he would really have used nuclear weapons on North Vietnam.  Almost certainly not, he replied.  But why not let the the North Vietnamese think that he was just crazy enough to do it?  Why give them any sense of security or assurance?


A former student of mine, an Iranian who has gone on to earn a Ph.D. in international relations, visited me a year or two ago.  We spoke for a while about President Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection and the mass street demonstrations that followed.  He claimed, based on his sources, that the regime was very near collapse, that the private jet of the chief ayatollah was actually on the tarmac at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, fueled up and ready to go.  It was only, he said, when President Obama publicly announced that the United States considered the demonstrations and the crackdown upon them a purely internal Iranian matter and would not intervene that Iranian authorities felt that they had a blank check to unleash their thugs and the full force of their machinery of oppression.  Nobody knows how many people died as a result.


Again, why should wrongdoers be given any assurance at all of impunity?  Let them feel insecure!


Policy makers considering gun control questions ought to give serious attention to the work of John Lott.


Finally, my wife and I attended a showing of the new Batman movie last night.  I enjoyed it, and it helped to take my mind off of the many long telephone conversations that had dominated the day.  (Various people were filling me in on what they know about recent developments involving me, and it was, on the whole, deeply depressing, more than a little infuriating, and discouraging.)  My wife’s purse was searched, going into the theater, and a theater employee was posted in the theater until some point into the film, watching over the emergency exit doors, and etc.  It really felt like going to a movie theater in Israel.  (One of my favorite related memories is attending a film in Jerusalem once, many years ago, carrying a grammar of Middle English with me.  I rarely go to movies without a book, in case there’s some free illuminated time before ads and previews begin, and I favor grammars and such things because reading them in small snatches of them is still useful, as opposed to opening a novel and getting only five lines into it before the lights dim.  Anyway, the Israeli guards couldn’t believe that somebody would bring a book with him to a theater, and they interrogated me for several minutes, all the while trying to find chemical traces or something sinister in the book.  It was pretty funny.  In retrospect.)


I was pleased, after watching the film, to learn that Christian Bale, who plays Batman, had visited some of the victims of the shooting in Aurora.  That was a very nice gesture.



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  • http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com Gerald Smith

    Dan, what are your feelings regarding the violent culture we are now in? I don’t blame guns for the event, but a toxic environment which cultured such an evil person. Would he have done what he did if he wasn’t hooked on Batman movies, violent video games, etc? Did the trailer for Sean Penn’s new movie, where a group of men come through a theater screen and shoot up the theater, inspire the shooter? Will Christian Bale and others stop acting in violent films because of this? Or will they continue promoting a culture of violence?
    How violent must a movie or video game or song be, before we say it is too violent?

    • danpeterson

      I’m forthrightly opposed to cultures of violence.

      Was the killer hooked on Batman movies and violent video games? I haven’t been following enough to know.

      I do know, though, that millions upon millions of people (myself and my wife included) have seen or will see this new Batman movie, and that the risk that any particular one of them will be moved to homicide by the film is considerably lower than the probability that I’ll be killed in a car accident or die of lead poisoning or go down in an airplane crash.

  • Fred Kratz

    Speculating that a gun toting public would make gun violence less prevalent is absurd. Why not a shootout in a dark movie theater with a deranged man dressed head to toe in protective gear, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and hundred round magazine, while smoke canisters explode (with the assumption made that these armed citizens had practiced at the gun range)? I can just see it now; people fumbling for their weapons as mass hysteria erupts all around and dead eye Johnson kills the madman with one well placed shot from his .32 ACP. Perhaps you should watch a season of “Top Shot”.

    And why was he dressed in all out protective gear? Did he fear someone was going to stop him with a box of raisinets?

  • Rob

    My wife has a few encounters with pure evil under her belt. She has emerged from these encounters relatively whole, but scarred in various ways. She went to more funerals in high school than I’ve been to in my entire life. She says she recognizes the evil in the shooter, and I believe her. One thing she is adamant about – we must not give evil whatever it desires.

    The shooter has expressed his desire to be thought of as a supervillain. He identified himself as the joker to police. My wife proposes that we must act to keep the shooter from getting what he wants. She proposes we think about him as Sideshow Bob – the tormented sidekick with bright red hair from The Simpsons who also really wanted to be taken seriously as a supervillain. By forcing ourselves to think of the shooter only with this image, we rob evil of what it desires, and maybe manage to keep ourselves a little more sane and on top of things at the same time.

  • Fred Kratz

    Having a shootout in a crowded theater or any other public venue would always be a terrible idea. In this case, the killer was dressed head to toe in body armor, chucking smoke canisters and shooting at a panicked crowd with an assault weapon capable of firing 100 rounds per minute. He was not dressed this way expecting someone to stop him with a bag of popcorn; he was ready for anything. And to think that an armed even capable person or two or three would have made a difference is ludicrous. Can you imagine someone fumbling for their concealed weapon as all hell is braking loose, drawing their .32 and perhaps hitting the madman and only wounding him, or killing someone else in with a bad shot? How would that play out? I would recommend you view a show like “Top Shot” to get some idea of just how challenging it is to hit a moving active target under extreme conditions, let alone when someone is shooting at you in a crowded theater!

    I’ve been around guns my entire life. I’ve spent countless hours at rifle and pistol ranges as have several of my good friends. None of us would feel the least big comfortable trying to shoot someone in such a situation. One misplaced shot would bring a life of regret, sorrow and remorse.

    I now live in Portland, OR and even here, our well trained police officers have made some terrible mistakes in extreme situations. Armed citizens in public venues would be a nightmare.

    • danpeterson

      I invite you to consider the work of Professor John Lott.

    • sam

      It would seem you are not qualified to do so. Please don’t suggest the rest of us are equally unqualified. Many concealed carry holders practice drawing, practice target shooting, etc.

      If you feel we are unqualified, perhaps you feel the police and military in Europe is also unqualified to carry guns? I recall a discussion with a police officer (or military, not sure) in an airport in Spain. He was carrying a compact assault rifle. I was waiting around in customs so we struck up a conversation. I asked him how often he trained and got to target shoot. “One time a year” he replied.

      Hmm…. Dan is correct in this case. Several people in the audience who returned fire would have saved lives. The shooter would have fled or at least had to shift his focus and return fire. If you’ve ever had someone shooting at you, you know it’s not easy to keep your composure and return fire. I have more faith in myself and my ability to protect my family under composure than I do a cowardice killer who attacks a bunch of unarmed people.

      Please people, just because you don’t have what it takes, don’t assume no one else does.

  • Michael Holton

    Maybe they should let Christian Bale dressed as batman spend a few minutes alone with ‘the joker’ James Holmes in the scene as depicted in the previous movie!

    No, no, just joking.