James Holmes: There, We Said It

Heeding the wishes of victims of the Colorado shooting and their families, some members of the media (including the Prospect's Steve Erickson) have refrained from using alleged shooter James Holmes's name. On Monday, CNN’s Anderson Cooper tweeted: “I have no intention of saying AuroraShooting suspect's name tonight. Don't want to give him more attention than needed.” True to his word, Cooper referred to Holmes as “the suspect” and “the alleged shooter” throughout the broadcast. Fox News went a step further, blacking out Holmes’s name in documents it displayed on the air. Politicians—including President Obama—have also joined the cause. Colorado governor John Hickenlooper has taken to calling him “suspect A.”

The idea is not only to deny Holmes the notoriety he presumably seeks, but to focus on the victims. It’s a well-intentioned gesture, perhaps, but it’s futile—and wrong-headed to boot. Making a show of not uttering the words “James Holmes” is just another example of the way that, faced with tragedy, we prefer sentimental gestures to meaningful, if difficult, discussions. After September 11, as people like Bill Maher learned the hard way, it became heresy to talk about what might have motivated the hijackers—or to call them anything but “fanatics” or “cowards.” Likewise, it was uncouth to question what might have spurred Gabrielle Giffords's shooter to murder. This time around, we’ve made a word game out of avoiding critical inquiry. While we piously refuse to talk about you-know-who, somewhere in America another 30 people’s lives are claimed by guns—the daily average—and an angry loner fantasizes about revenge and stockpiles his arsenal.

I fear it may be impossible for the public to talk about the attack in Colorado in a way that wouldn't feel like a violation to someone who has just lost a child, a sister, or a best friend. This is always the problem when a private tragedy becomes a public one: Victims and their families no longer own their story. But if the broader public refuses to talk about the shooter—or, as some have suggested, merely label him a coward—this precludes discussing what might have motivated him, what may have stopped him, and what actions legislators can take—if any—to prevent a similar tragedy.

I'm not talking about whether or not it's okay to "politicize" a tragedy; as others have pointed out, it's impossible for a story thrust into the national discourse not to be politicized. The moment someone starts to "grieve" whose only connection to those theatergoers in Aurora is their nationality, we're already in the realm of politics. The real question is how we politicize it: Whether we treat this tragedy as a trite morality tale about Americans' boundless compassion and ability to overcome the fear such an event inspires, or whether we move past promises to "never forget" and change our culture and laws to make similar acts of violence as rare as they are in most other industrialized nations.

James Holmes was so determined to cause harm to others that stricter gun laws wouldn't have stopped him. But it's also clear that the death count would not have been so high had he not owned a semi-automatic weapon. The reason there were not more casualties is that Holmes' semi-automatic jammed, leaving him with a far less deadly weapon to continue his rampage.

Is allowing citizens to own semi-automatic weapons worth the increased capacity for harm? It’s a debate we need to have—fiercely and openly. Instead of hashing this out, though, it is easier for those on opposing sides of the issue to agree that Holmes was a bad guy and that we should feel sorry for his victims and somehow “honor” them with our sorrow. But that's about as useful as agreeing the sky is blue. In effect, what it does is maintain the status quo, which makes it unsurprising that among those saying we should stick to grieving are the NRA and its supporters.

The truth is that none of us is likely to remember the names of the victims of the Colorado shootings in ten years—in the same way few people remember the names of the Oklahoma City bombing's victims. But we can choose to make it more difficult for murderous minds to kill. Or at least we can talk about it. Whatever we do, it will matter very little to the victims of the next shooting whether or not we used James Holmes's name.


I find it important that so many (relatively speaking) people (usually white men or boys) choose or plan to use guns when they (temporarily or permanently) lose their grip on reason. In other words, there's more at stake here than sensible gun control.

Americans need to be disarmed in their heads. And that's not getting the NRA off the hook, since it's the NRA that keeps Americans' minds locked and loaded, even when they don't own any guns. It's bad enough that Washington has declared war on much of the planet, droning the skies and unloading hellfire missiles on wedding parties and funerals -- what a superb role model for inspiring troubled teenager fantasies!

But when the population is encouraged to embrace the national myth of America as a heroic gun totin' cowboy, and the NRA exploits that myth to corrupt the meaning of the Second Amendment -- and when Americans look upon these horrific massacres as an opportunity to congratulate themselves on how strong and brave and empathetic they are in the face of tragedy -- then all the conditions are right for repeated massacres.

The only thing America needs more than rational gun laws is therapy.

chicago has draconion gun laws. it doesn't seem to reduce the weekly carnage.

That's why she said they need therapy even more.
But, since there are too few therapists and so many are lacking the right skills and the cost is so high, perhaps we also need to discover many other ways to increase our awareness, our acceptance and responsibility for life. Mind-fullness, anyone?

Gabe -- You remind me of my young nephew--a sharp computer nerd but wet-behind-the-ears on his thinking, too! Everyone's missing the 'Why' question: Why are men increasingly turning to violence? Could it be something in their genes that's not getting the attention it was wired for? Read my post on this at Desert Mountain Times {http://desertmountaintimes.com/2012/07/hey-men-why-so-much-contempt-from-super-moms/#more-857 }. Be a thinker!

Since the Issa committee has completed the Mexican gun distribution case, I would suggest that they take on gun control as a new study. The nation would benefit greatly if they could come up a solution for saving lives from future mass murderers.

Americans need to be disarmed in their heads.

yea joe stalin did that for peeps in the ussr

Guns in America are free (to pass from sane people's hands to the insane.) That's because there are maybe 300 million of them in private hands. THey and other dangerous materials, think gasoline, propane tanks, must come under tighter access control. GUNS, ETC. ARE FREE, THAT'S WHY WE NOW NEED "NUT CONTROL." There: I said it.

Sure, ownership of quantities of guns, high capacity magazines, and ammunition by individuals should be much better rationed and restricted. But we also know that (as the NYTmes put it) "There is a Well-Marked Road to [Mass] Homicide." We need to get over our squeamishness over confidentiality. Centralized information from mandated reporters should be available and required to be consulted by gun dealers as part of a background check. This must include information as to whether anyone has reported that the applicant for purchase has a history of serious mental health problems, has seen a mental health professional, has had psychiatric drugs prescribed for them, has been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, has spoken of suicide, or persecution, has tried suicide or displayed weapons in public, or made a threat of violence.

But then... who is gonna PAY for all this information gathering and law enforcement to make it work to cut mass violence? That violence will go on and on with hand - wringing ceremonies afterward. We'll be lucky if "The Demon in the Freezer" is never awakened again.

"Since the Issa committee has completed the Mexican gun distribution case, "

eric "my peeps" holder hasn't been frog marched yet. the plame chick will tell you.

Gabriel your article is topical but I think we need to go further back, to the underlying reason you wrote. Are semi auto firearms contributing to gun homicides in the US? James Holms actually had two different semi autos, two handguns and one rifle. Statistics tell us the semi auto rifle he used (assault weapon is the name people are familiar with) is used in a tiny number of homicides. If the goal is to reduce gun homicides regulating these rifles, which I call ugly black guns due to their appearance, will do little. Rifles of all types are used in fewer homicides than knives according to Wiki. Handguns on the other hand, are the overwhelming majority of firearms used in homicides.

And people love hand guns. People who don't even shoot guns love owning handguns, it gives them a feeling of power and control over their own safety. Liberal, vegetarian, Volvo driving grandmoms even like handguns. Getting people to submit to restrictions on handguns would be much more difficult than outlawing those scary looking black guns (assault weapons) which actually statistically account for a tiny percentage of gun crime.

One thing I can guarantee, any large scale effort to restrict or curtail gun usage prior to this election will do great harm to countless other progressive causes. Would a republican win in the White House or majorities in the senate or congress help reduce gun crime?

Your last paragraph is spot on. I am a pro-gun Liberal/progressive and I find it really interesting that many Liberal/progressives think in a similar fashion to the republicans - ie: disconnected from reality when it comes to firearms. They can't accept the FACT that there will NEVER be even close to the type of gun control they want and the active pursuit of such actually shoots progressive causes in the foot (no pun intended). Think for a minute .... what would have been the result had James elected to construct a VBIED instead of using firearms? The guy surely had the knowledge to do this . . . look how he booby trapped his apartment. There would have been 10 or 20 times the dead and injured. Would the Liberal/progressive reaction be to push for outlawing nitrogenous fertilizer? Why don't we think clearly, rationally and practically - - and try to effect changes that might have helped James before he got to the breaking point. James' mental state is the problem not the tools he used.

I live in a remote part of the country as does a significant portion of the population. The majority of the people here like to use firearms for many things and are choice of their guns. They view gun ownership as one of the more precious American rights. The Liberal/progressive anti-gun agenda, along with faux news and the NRA, convinces them to vote republican even though it would be in their own best interest to align themselves with us. The Liberal/progressive anti-gun agenda is NOT rational or attainable in today's America. There are far too many of us pro-gun types and we won't stand for it.

Why oh why do we persist in hamstringing our noble progressive cause by continuing with this anti-gun agenda?

One of the most distressing cultural developments we've seen in recent decades is the refusal (failure?) of Americans to openly discuss, debate, dissect and hash our way through the most critical issues. It's a hard and contentious process. It is also what grownups must do. The point that seems to scare the public the most is the "why," not seeming to grasp that it is critically important to openly examine this. Stripping James Holmes of his name only enables us to evade examining the factors that led to this horror. By stripping him of his name, we can think of him as something other than human, more like a character from a movie than like someone in our neighborhoods, protecting ourselves from having to think about things that we don't want to think about.

The author suggests having a debate over allowing semi-automatic firearms but never defines the term or indicates she even knows what it is.

Never mind the debate over firearms. The root of the matter is the man was disturbed mentally. That is the big taboo that we do not discuss as adults.

The arguments people use against gun control don't hold up:

"If Holmes hadn't had guns, he could have used gasoline." As if it would have been easy to lug two five-gallon cans of gasoline into a movie theater.
"Hardly anyone is killed with automatic rifles, so banning them wouldn't do much good." Tell that to the 70 families who were victims of the shootings.
"Chicago has draconian gun control laws, but it doesn't do much good." This is the second mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado in the last twenty years. Chicago has nothing to do with it.

A simple comparisson between gun related deaths in Europe and America, should make it plain to a four year old what the problem is. Your insane gun laws...That's the issue, not whether you could or should call a person by his name.

More dumb arguments from the left. 1. Just about every handgun sold in the US is a semi-auto. 2. Criminals don't obey gun laws, which means you only disarm law-abiding citizens. 3. It's in our constitution for a reason, to protect us against tyranny, not to go hunting. So the question of banning guns shouldn't be a question at all. 4. Finally, the answer in Colorado would have been for several people in that audience to be armed. One .45 round whistling past Holmes' ears and I imagine the coward would have run right back out the exit where he came in.

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