People everywhere are shocked at the Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting massacre that took place yesterday. 21 people killed 59 wounded. On a pedestrian level, that’s obviously very understandable. It frightens one to the core.
Yet, should we really be so surprised that this type of violence has again streaked the face of this country? I don’t ask if we should be sickened or saddened. That answer is obvious. But – if we are to be honest – should we really be surprised?
When events like this happen, comparisons are inevitable. And while comparisons are fitting, they often cloud the most important issue of what is causing this particular type of very public violence. What will be offered in this post will not so much be comparisons as much as an argument as to causation: In the past 25 to 30 years, the amount of violence in the media – both films, television, and even more pernicious and dangerous – violent video games – has proliferated like a deadly virus, a contagion out of control. This type of sociopathology is inevitable in a society whose legal system refuses to allow stronger regulation of violence in the popular media. This type of criminal phenomenon – mass shootings by a disturbed person – first appeared on the American landscape in 1966, when a man by the name of Charles Whitman opened fire from the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin. He killed 16 people and wounded 31 more. From that time forward – for almost 20 years – almost no mass shootings took place in the United States. Until July 18, 1984, when a man named James Oliver Huberty shot 21 people to death in a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif. The pace then increased:
• June 18, 1990: James Edward Pough shot people at random in a General Motors Acceptance Corp. office in Jacksonville, Fla. He killed 10 and wounded four more, before killing himself.
• Oct. 16, 1991: Another deadly shooting took place in Killeen, Texas, as someone named George Hennard opened fire at a Luby’s Cafeteria. He killed 23 people and wounded 20 others before killing himself.
• April 20, 1999: Students Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in a shooting that made the Columbine name unforgettable. The two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher and wounded 26 others before killing themselves.
• April 16, 2007: Seung-Hui Cho, 23, opened fire on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va. He killed 32 people, then killed himself.
• Nov. 5, 2009: Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan opens fire in the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood, Texas. Thirteen soldiers and civilians were killed and more than two dozen were wounded.
None of the above are offered as “comparisons,” because – other than dates, locations, and statistics on victims, I don’t believe there is anything to compare. They are all essentially the same: Sadistic violence on a mass scale. Yet while both sides of the political divide will (once again) predictably debate gun legislation – which is fine, in my view – such focus, in my professional view as a Boston criminal defense lawyer, misses the mark. That mark is to ask, why is this violence occur in the United States with ever more frequency? The public and political response that we will all see from this incident (from both political parties) is as predictable as the sun rising in the east: Stronger gun control. More stringent mental health checks on applicants for firearms licenses; on and on.
Yet who asks. “Why is this type of violence increasing in this country?” I’ll answer that critical question, in my next post.