Michelle and I are incredibly excited about seeing The Dark Knight Rises tonight, although like most everyone in the world, we were shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic shooting in Colorado. Much has already been said about this, but I wanted to say a few things.
I’m deeply saddened that this has turned into a political issue. How can it? A maniac, a man with a deep psychological break, the inability to control his worst impulses and rages, committed horrible violence on random people who had the misfortune of being in the theater he chose. But inevitably, it becomes a gun ownership issue.
The “pro gun” community insists that if everyone (or at least someone) in the theater was armed, the maniac could have been shot and killed before he could have murdered more people. Maybe so. But having a gun isn’t the same as being trained to use it, and having the steel nerves and training to return fire when a man in riot gear is shooting at random. And don’t forget about the riot gear—the maniac wouldn’t have been that easy to kill.
The “anti-gun” community points out that the ease with which guns can be purchased in the USA makes this kind of senseless tragedy far more likely. Indeed, you don’t hear of nearly as many shootings in nations in which guns are illegal. As movie critic and social commentator Roger Ebert opines in the New York Times, We’ve Seen This Movie Before. But regardless of the value of gun laws to society as a whole, it’s not clear if that would have stopped this murderer in particular. This perpetrator had gone to extreme lengths, with (what seems to be) extra-legal riot gear, booby traps on his apartment, and so on. Clearly, this was an educated sociopath with the means to get the equipment he needed, regardless of the law.
So can’t we just all unite in condemnation of this tragedy, and put politics-as-usual aside?
There is of course the expected criticism of violence in the media as being a cause. I too feel that there is often excessive gore in television and films which can have a desensitizing effect. But hundreds of millions of people every year see violent movies and watch violent television shows, and yet there aren’t hundreds of millions of random acts of violence due to them each year. In the minds of the viewer, the separation between fantasy and reality is clear. Upbringing, education, family/environment, all contribute to the viewer being able to understand and interpret the story (and in fact, as the panel above shows, Batman himself does not kill or use guns, so the moral lessons of the stories are clear). When an individual cannot tell the difference between fact and fantasy, when one has been raised that random murder is bad and decides to go ahead with it anyway, there is a deep pathological break that as far more to do with the failures of parenting/education/psychiatric treatment/environment than whatever art the murderer is exposed to. Even the total elimination of all action/violence in art wouldn’t stop psychotic people from doing psychotic things.
We’re still going to enjoy seeing The Dark Knight Rises tonight. And we hope you enjoy it too, if and when you see it. And we’re going to continue to work towards a caring, compassionate world which reduces the number of random acts of mass murder. It’s a lofty, maybe impossible goal. But it’s one worth fighting for.
That’s what Batman would do.