Colorado Shooting: Guns & Cameras

Colorado Shooting: Guns & Cameras July 20, 2012

Here’s the thing I hate most in the aftermath of tragedies like the one in Colorado:

There is no evidence of any military history. 

He did not serve in the military as far as we know. 

He was a 24-year-old white male, with no criminal  history and no history of serving in the military. 


I understand that broadcast media is only looking for a soundbite, not a meaningful dialogue about the deeper question of evil.

What if James Holmes had served in the military?

What if he were a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Would you feel better about what happened?

Would you shake you head sadly and say, But of course.





We have media to thank for this perception of veterans, this notion that when a mass shooting happens in this country it must have been conducted by someone connected to the military. Who but the military has access to so many guns, to bulletproof vests, to gas masks and tear gas? How come the media doesn’t automatically jump to the conclusion that the guy is a survivalist instead of a veteran of war?

Mass murders are almost always conducted by young white males. They are rarely veterans. *Hitler and Lt. Calley aside.

What ought to concern all of us, what we ought to be paying attention to, is the ease with which people in the midst of this tragedy pulled out their iPhones and began recording. We all ought to be troubled by the seemingly detached accounting of the night’s events by people, especially the young, to various news agencies.

Where is that screaming, crying & mass hysteria we witnessed at Columbine?

Witnesses were stunned, yes.

But the ones I saw interviewed possessed an unsettling absence of emotion. Some seemed to be performing for the camera.

Their stories are graphic — I crawled through the blood over the dead woman’s body — and the stories are told in a disturbingly similar fashion. Each interviewee amping up the details of their storytelling in order to shock the listening audience. You can almost hear the news host thinking aloud, how can we make this go viral?

Veterans and PTSD are not the problem here.

To experience post-traumatic stress disorder one has to have a great deal of empathy for others. It is the reliving of the terrors of war, over and over again.  It’s the emotion, the sorrow, the grief, the horror that underlies PTSD. Veterans who experience PTSD rarely talk about the events that haunt them, but when they do they do so with great emotion, even 40 years after the fact.

We don’t yet know the long-term affects of living in a society where we are able to use a camera to detach ourselves from reality as we record it, but the answer won’t be found in tiresome arguments or wrong-headed assumptions.

It is embedded in the bigger question of evil.

Perhaps our ancestors were right to be suspicious of cameras. Perhaps cameras can indeed rob us of our souls. They call that shooting, too.

If so, doesn’t our healing begin, in part, through the denying of the camera and the pithy sound bite?

As industrial technology advances and enlarges, and in the process assumes greater social, economic, and political force, it carries people away from where they belong by history, culture, deeds, association and affection. … Wendell Berry




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  • alishadefreitas

    Wow. This has been the most poignant piece I’ve read on the tragedy. You have such a gift for this… for bringing light into darkness. Without cliches and falsities.

    Thank you (again).

  • Joanne K McPortland

    Thank you. This is what I was trying to wrestle with posting about today. There is NO line between the movie and the assault, either in the actions of the accused or the emotionless accounts of the witnesses—who had all, lest we forget, paid money and stood in line to get a thrill from the violence of a supervillain. This is not, I repeat not, the fault of the movie. We are all (assassins and victims) possessed by the same madness, in which it makes as much sense to bring a 3-month-old baby to a midnight public screening of a loud and frightening movie as it does to assume that a man shooting live ammunition is “part of the show.” It is very much the larger question of evil, and why we are so willing either to ignore or invite it. The repeated line of so many witnesses—“I wanted to help, but what could I do?”—is a question each one of us should be asking today.

    • Joanna: I must admit that I was surprised by how many made the comment that they thought he was part of the show. It may be all those years working as a cop reporter but I am usually on alert for the odd behavior. Did no one notice Mr. Holmes walk out the exit door and prop open the door? Did they think he was just going to sneak his buddies in? (cheating the system has become the American way).

  • You’ve tucked so much into this piece, miss Karen…

    Am I part of the problem by reading blogs and commenting – by feeding a part of the techno animal that is devoid of emotion, empathy, compassion, human touch, etc?

    Desensitization, overstimulation, and a loss of reality are three (of many) reasons why lots of folks I know don’t allow their kids to play video games and watch TV/movies with violence. The media turns up the volume because the main viewing audience cannot hear the simple, the sincere, the tender, the real — the media is competing for attention, just like the people.

    Lord God, have mercy; comfort the wounded who suffer from physical, spiritual, and emotional trauma. Show us how to shine Your light in an ever-darkening world. In Jesus’ name, amen.

    • I admit to being one of those parents, Darlene. We didn’t have TV in our home when the kids were growing up. The only video game they owned was Mario. Call me over-protective.

  • Mary Bartram

    It worried me that they were going to say he was military. He was not. But that does not leave oum the fact that he is from a generation of children that grew up seeing muder daily on the screen in front of them. Do they know what is real? I heard someone tell on the news to keep the young children away from the TV when they were talking about this incident because they would have a hard time separating the movie from what really happened. Go figure…..The games, the movies, they can kill in their own living room…….My God help us.

    • Good observations, Mary. I found it interesting that CNN put up a graphic that resembled a video game in which they demonstrated Mr. Holmes’s attack. It bothered me.

  • Margaret Mary Myers

    Thank you for sharing. There’s just one thing that concerns me. Are you implying that because you did not see emotion that therefore they did not have emotion? Or that the apparent absence of emotion comes from the presence of cameras? Have you ever heard of people writing on any slip of paper, or the walls, when they think they are going to die? Why should they not record what could have been their last moments? And were they supposed to be screaming and yelling and crying out loud? Wait. They were “amping it up” as they told the story? That, my friend, was probably one way their emotion was coming out. But also, sometimes our emotions get pushed aside while we work for survival. These people were trying to survive in the midst of one of the most horrendous things that has happened in this country. I think what they need most from us is our compassion, our prayers, and our understanding that they will have to work through this, each in his or her own time and way. God bless them.

    • MMM: Agreed. They all need our prayers. Survivors. First Responders. Law Enforcement. Mr. Holmes and his family. And the victims and their families.
      No one is suggesting a lack of emotion.
      It’s simply an observation that the presence of technology — cameras — and the ever-present desire (need?) to perform before them is affecting us in ways we have not seen before.
      My generation was the first to have war broadcast into our living rooms — Vietnam. There’s no getting around the fact that watching soldiers carried off the battlefield, or in the midst of battle, affected us.

      I do disagree with the notion that pulling out an iPhone to record the events is the same as writing on a slip of paper or walls when a person thinks they are going to die. Writing requires reflection that technology doesn’t demand. A camera becomes a buffer to the reality that is taking place.

  • Sharon O

    I think the emotions comes in stages. Some react horrifically sobbing. Others are calm almost robotic because the shock is too much. My biggest concern is the little children who were in a larger than life theater at the midnight hour when their body clock says they should be sleeping when the biggest most real nightmare took place before their eyes. These were little children going to a violent movie subjected to real life violence. I am not in any way judging but my concern is the choices we make as our society runs to big screens in the name of entertainment. This tragedy is deeply layered.
    Will these children as well as the adults ever be able to go to a theater again? flash backs and pstd will happen even for them.
    My own emotions ran deep as I watched interviews and my tears ran down my shocked face till my husband turned the tv off. I just could not understand a midnight movie… with children involved. This was not an afternoon matinee all of the ‘violence’ was over by 12:30am when most of us were sleeping in a peaceful protected environment.