It’s been five days since the horrific violence in Colorado and things don’t make any more sense today than they did last Friday morning when James Holmes walked into a packed movie theater, threw down canisters of tear gas and started shooting, killing 12 people and injuring almost 60 others.
Holmes has now made his first court appearance and details continue to emerge about his life and his apartment that he rigged with explosives. Bewildered speculation continues about a possible motive for his random killing spree.
The politicians are weighing in too, but with only a few exceptions they are not saying much of substance, other than their expressions of sympathy for the victims and their families.
Many pundits and elected officials tell us this is not the time to talk about our gun laws that allowed Holmes to legally assemble an arsenal of full body armor, 6,000 rounds of ammunition, and several weapons including a semi-automatic assault rifle equipped with a drum magazine that holds 100 bullets for firing without the need to reload.
That’s also what many of them told us in January of 2011 when Jared Loughner killed 6 people in Arizona and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Loughner had a magazine of 33 bullets attached to his semi-automatic handgun.
Some people did ask after the Arizona shooting why any citizen would need to be able to fire a handgun 33 times before putting more bullets in it.
They were shouted down by the hard line pro-gun groups, who have so managed to so twist the debate about gun laws that even the suggestion of any restriction on weapons is considered a violation of the broadly misinterpreted Second Amendment and politicians run the other way.
A few people are asking the same questions now. Why is it legal for anybody to buy magazines that enable them to shoot 100 times without stopping to reload? Not to mention the body armor that Holmes bought for his deadly spree.
One Colorado gun club leader told the Associated Press “we’re different than other cultures. We do allow Americans to possess the accoutrements that our military generally has.”
Author Craig Whitney points out in the New York Times that the websites that sell the 100-bullet drums like the one Holmes apparently used last Friday don’t mince any words.
One of them Woot!, touts the drum as “Just the ticket, should things really heat up and the lead needs to fly.” Accoutrements indeed.
Both that drum and the 33-bullet magazine that Jared Loughner used in his deadly rampage were briefly illegal in the United States until Congress declined to renew the ban on semi-automatic assault weapons that expired in 2004.
That was back when at least there was a debate, when politicians were willing to argue publicly about the need to have sensible gun laws that protect both the public and an individual’s constitutional rights.
That seems like a lot longer than eight years ago. The debate now is only what gun laws to loosen. The General Assembly voted in the last session to allow concealed weapons in parks and playgrounds. The House passed a bill to allow them in bars and restaurants.
Politicians routinely have fundraisers at gun ranges where contributors can fire the weapon of their choice and even take part in simulations much like video games where they can shoot shadowy strangers on a screen.
You’d never know it from most of the current rhetoric but we have all agreed that the Second Amendment cannot be absolute or it would be legal for your neighbor to keep a small nuclear weapon in his garage or park a tank in his driveway.
The question is where we draw the line. That’s the debate. It seems like an easy call to at least draw it to prevent anyone from buying military style body armor and magazines that hold 100 bullets or 33. Those are not guns for hunting or self-defense. They are weapons of mass destruction.
And now is the time to talk about it.