With charges formally laid against the presumed murderer at the movie theatre in Aurora, and with the families of victims quietly grieving in their homes and in their hearts, it may be appropriate that we once again reflect on what's next, as opposed to what happened. Many in Canada, as elsewhere, were shocked and saddened at such a horrendous crime and the question most often heard is: What can be done to avoid these kinds of mass killings?
We are reminded of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords and others, and wonder why not much follows after the "breaking news" hits the airwaves, the expressions of sadness and grief, the heart wrenching profiles of victims, and the wall-to-wall television coverage that garners high ratings.
As a Canadian, it can be difficult to comprehend this American love affair for "bearing arms." After the Aurora, Colorado, tragedy, a spike of 41 percent in gun demand occurred in the state of Colorado. True, the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is explicit about the right to bear arms, but were the Founders thinking of sophisticated technological weapons such as AK-47s and weapons that can shoot 100 rounds per minute? Or, did they assume that one day in the future, an individual could order ammunition and a magazine by a technique called the internet like he was ordering a book? I doubt it.
In the aftermath of the shooting, some of the discussion centered quite rightly around mental illness and the impact of the de-institutionalization of patients along with reduced budget for diagnosis and care of mental patients. All very legitimate discussions to have in a search for solutions. But it was not dealing with the reality on the ground that Friday night in July—a shooter meticulously planned a mass murder for weeks and proceeded to legally arm himself to perform the deed, and if the gun had not jammed, many more innocent victims would have perished.
Yet, one man who happens to be the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, ventured immediately in the controversial area of existing gun laws to provoke a debate and challenge the NRA as well as the two presidential candidates. Both presidential candidates did little except express their condolences. To be fair, President Obama was more explicit in the days that followed on the need to ban weapons more apt for a battlefield than an urban setting meant for recreation. Can we expect some action in the immediate future? Again, I have my doubts.
No city or country is immuned to these spray type killings but the statistics don't lie - Americans possess more guns and have more victims of gun violence every year than any developed country in the world. And by a huge margin! Film director Michael Moore, who did the documentary on Columbine, says Americans kill, not guns. He is right but what the Aurora killer did was done legally. He armed himself, he protected himself with the best equipment, and he entered a movie theater equipped to do mass murder. And on top of it all, he had a gift waiting for law officers by booby-trapping his home. All done legally.
We in Canada had a mass killing of our own in the early 1990s. As a consequence, the Liberal government of the day decided on a gun registry department which later proved to be costly and provoked the ire of hunters, who objected to government regulation of gun possession for pleasure and hunting purposes. Canada's current Conservative government has since chosen to abolish the gun registry despite objections from many law enforcement associations and families of victims. It seems that the gun lobby was also effective even north of the border.
The facts are that we should have less guns at large because guns in the wrong hands lead to gun violence in any country. Less regulation or making it easier to buy a gun is definitely not the answer.
What is needed is a rational discussion among policymakers, including law enforcement agencies, where the goals are to reduce the numbers of guns, ban all automatic weaponry used on the battlefield from being accessed by civilians, impose severe restrictions on who can possess an authorized weapon, and impose training requirements as is done with a car driving license. This way, the common good will best be served. And the "breaking news" and "grieving" syndrome, so commonly seen on our screens, will have at least served for meaningful change.
John Parisella is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently an invited professor at University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. His Twitter account is @JohnParisella.