At 12:30 am (local time) on July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colorado, a 24-year-old male opened fire on an unsuspecting theatre filled with innocent men, women and (curiously) children at a sold-out, midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, the latest, and final, episode in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. What was meant to be a three-hour escape from reality for the hundreds of patrons at the Century 16 movie theatre turned out to be far darker, and deadlier, than even the most gruesome Batman villain could be. In total, the assailant – said to be James Eagan Holmes, a former PhD candidate in neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver – has injured upward of 70 people, twelve fatally.
In the following hours (on the east coast, at least) the morning news programs were very quick to point out that Holmes was white and was not believed to be connected to any form of terror organization. It was an odd move by the news organizations to essentially say that because Holmes was white, and because he had no connection to any citizen militia, or (God forbid) al Qaeda, Holmes was not a terrorist. This couldn’t be more false.
As David Sirota at Salon asks: “what is terrorism, if it is not a man in a riot mask and bullet-proof vest, armed with tear gas canisters and weapons, meticulously executing a military-style assault on a crowded movie theater?”
In America, though, we are quick to connect the term terrorism or terrorist with dark-skinned, Islamist extremists half-a-world over, while we refer to our own domestic terrorists as a “lone wolf,” “sociopath,” or “psychopath.” The truth is that terrorism has no race, no religion and no specific set of motivations – terrorism is simply an exploitation of fear; it isn’t a concept which is mutually exclusive to a certain region of the world, but, rather, it may be the single most universal aspect of geopolitics.
The question we often find ourselves asking in the aftermath of a tragedy like this is why would he do this? Perhaps we’re focused on the wrong question. After all, we’re a nation with some 270 million guns floating around, 255 million prescriptions for antidepressants and a population of 313 million – it’s shocking that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often. Of course, it does happen at an alarming rate – at least when compared with the rest of the civilized world – but it’s sort of a surprise the rate isn’t even higher.
The question we should be focused on, though, isn’t the why – as long as civilization exists, there will always be those terrorists batshit crazy enough to open fire in a crowded movie theatre – but, rather, the how. How was James Holmes able to open fire in a crowded movie theatre? This is, of course, a complex question, but deals far less with the abstract than the first.
Holmes, it is said, carried out his plot with an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and two handguns – as well as with a smoke bomb (possibly filled with tear gas) and bullet-proof armor. (It is also said that Holmes has “booby-trapped” his apartment, with ammunition and canisters filled with some form of liquid.) The question, then, is how did he obtain these guns?
According to the Aurora Police Chief, Dan Oates, Holmes purchased these guns, legally, and purchased over 3,000 rounds of ammunition for the AR-15 (and a 100-round magazine), another 3,000 rounds for the two glocks, and 300 rounds for the shotgun over the internet. So to re-cap, Holmes purchased four deadly weapons in gun shops – presumably passing the background check – including two of the guns from a Bass Pro Shop*, and then was able to – again, legally – purchase six-thousand, three-hundred rounds of ammunition over the internet. With laws that allow you to purchase that many guns, and that much ammo over a sixty-day period…what the fuck did they think would happen?!
*Question: why the fuck is a fishing equipment shop selling handguns?