Viewpoint: Stopping the broken individual

Grief is an organic process, and manifests itself in many ways. After a tragic event occurs, like the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, the people involved (and the people who merely witness the events through news coverage) start to experience complex emotions, and it is important not to dictate to others the way in which they need to grieve. However, when a large-scale, tragic event like this one becomes politicized, a voice of reason deserves to be heard.

It can be easy to let fear take over; in the week after the shooting, the number of background checks in Colorado for people wanting to buy a gun went up 43 percent from the previous week, sparking gun control debates across the country. Theaters around the country scrambled to appear safer, hiring off-duty police officers and other security personnel to patrol during showings. AMC Theaters, in a press release, decided they would “not allow any guests into (their) theaters in costumes that make other guests feel uncomfortable and (they) will not permit face-covering masks or fake weapons inside (their) building.”

These reactions are all understandable. Safe communities everywhere felt violated, and the first impulse is to keep something like this from ever happening again. But without making any political statements on issues like gun control or community security, it deserves saying that this was the act of a broken individual, and broken individuals cannot be regulated or accurately anticipated.

James Eagan Holmes, the chief suspect in the Aurora shooting, allegedly purchased a ticket to the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, exited through an emergency exit minutes into the film, and then allegedly re-entered through the propped door wearing full tactical gear. He set off tear gas grenades and began firing into the film’s audience with four firearms. The gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 others before being arrested just a few minutes later.

The shooting began at 12:38 a.m., the first emergency calls were made at 12:39, and police arrived within 90 seconds. Holmes was apprehended near his car, without resistance, by 12:45.

The Internet exploded over the next few days, alight with suggestions as to how this could have been prevented. “More guns!”’ yelled some. “Fewer guns,” urged others. Some blamed the theater, some blamed the police, some blamed Holmes’ school psychiatrist, and some even blamed the poor, confused victims for not stopping the gunman in the act.

Rampage killings, according to experts, are a particularly devious beast, because they are so difficult to predict and thwart. Terrorist attacks are difficult to stop, but can be occasionally anticipated through military and intelligence efforts and the infiltration of supply sources and terrorist networks. But stopping the broken individuals from harming others is more difficult, because they crawl out from under the baseboards.

There are people who would say the gunman’s actions are the act of insanity, and there are those who will say the premeditated nature of the shootings (and alleged booby-trapping of the suspect’s apartment) are indication enough that this was too well planned out for an insane mind. These are issues for the legal system to work through.

What the public is left with are questions: What made the gunman break? Was it a lack of attention? Sexual frustration? Bad grades? Is the gunman a psychopath? Could it have been prevented by a suspicious neighbor, security cameras or an armed theater patron? Why can someone legally obtain a semi-automatic weapon, tear gas grenades and full tactical battle armor? Will there be copycats? Can something be done to stop them?

It can be easy to give in to fear, but the fact is that terrible people do terrible things sometimes, under the veil of complex motivations, and more terrible things might happen in the future. But being consumed by the prevention of broken individuals breaking is a fruitless effort. The gunman wanted control. Let’s not give it to him.