Massacre at the movies: Finally on Trial

On April 27, 2015, the trial of the shooter in the Aurora, CO movie theater massacre began. I will not name him in this post. His youngest victim was just six years old on that night in July of 2012. A movie theater – as well as a sporting event, school, church, synagogue, mosque, playground or any other place public or private should be a place of safety. Unfortunately, that isn’t true anymore. Maybe it never was.

I was not in the Aurora theater when a shooter assaulted and murdered moviegoers on July 20, 2012, but I have something in common with them: a love of Batman and the movies. I was in a similar theater one hundred miles away at the same time, watching the same movie premiere; in the theater we turned off our mobile devices out of courtesy; we had no way of knowing that folks just like us were under attack simply because one man disappointed in his life chose that time and place to vent his distorted, disturbed vengeance on innocent people, including that six year old little girl.

On July 20, 2012, one hundred miles away from Aurora, I sat in the third row to watch the film because it was a packed theater, but I usually sit in the center of the 8th or 9th row when I go to the movies. Either way, if I had been in the theater in Aurora, I might have been among the dead or the injured. That thought, now that I’ve articulated it, begs the question: am I living my life to the fullest? (That’s a topic for another post). After the movie I arrived home, logged onto social media and learned that people a hundred miles away in a darkened theater not unlike the one I had just spent the last few hours in were killed by an individual shooter wearing black protective assault gear. Like so many others, I sat riveted in shock, disbelief, and grief at the news reports coming from Aurora, Colorado.

After nearly three years, the trial regarding the tragic events of that night is underway. I have been watching the trial as much as possible (and yes, video of the trial is available on YouTube), which is expected to take months to complete. The prosecutors have a lot of evidence to present in this case. The shooter (the defendant) pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.  I am highly skeptical as to the defendant’s insanity at the time of the massacre. After all, I’m not on the jury – I don’t know if I could keep an open mind as to his innocence.  I am not merely saddened or sickened by the shooter’s actions; I’m angry and heartbroken that one depraved shooter intentionally disregarded life and destroyed the lives of the people in that theater. I have no sympathy for him. The jury has to determine, based on the evidence presented in court, his guilt, insanity, or innocence in this case. I, however, am not bound by a jury’s oath.

Some of my friends might disagree and ask me to consider that he is indeed mentally ill.

I can, in ordinary circumstances, maintain an open mind and consider that an individual might have a mental disorder that can lead to behaving in a manner that endangers others. I am a compassionate person; I know some people have to live with genuine mental illness and undergo regular and consistent treatment and medication for a mental disorder. For this shooter in this circumstance, I do not have any such sensitivity or compassion; this act was the culmination of months of meticulous tactical planning for maximum damage and strategic establishment of a plea of insanity.

Others have used public places to perpetrate crimes of hate or terror: it has so many possible origins, and seems to differ from individual to individual. To use a film or other cultural event (like the Boston Marathon) or place as a stage for one’s heinous intentions toward other human beings without any regard for human life is beyond words. In what way has our society created these people?  To lay blame at the doorstep of Hollywood, video games, the media, religion, social media, feigned psychosis, or society skirts the issue: understanding what spawns this type of act, and how to educate people to recognize and report (to whom?) a potential perpetrator of such violence remains an ongoing question. Is our society capable of finding a solution?

When I was a child going to the movies or school or church or the grocery store or camping was not a potential threat to my life. Why is it now? Has something changed in society, or has technology made distant news local so that we are more aware of these acts of violence? Is the ongoing gun control argument the issue?

Laws have not kept up with technology – the technology of guns or digital technology, and with our lawmakers intent on protecting our 2nd Amendment rights to the extreme, it seems that we have to be prepared to don Kevlar vests whenever we leave our homes.  Assault weapons have no place in the hands of ordinary citizens. That said: do I want to forfeit my 2nd Amendment Right to own a shotgun, a rifle, a handgun? NO, I don’t. The only purpose for automatic assault weaponry is to kill. It takes the sport out of hunting – unless one is hunting human beings. If that is the intention, well, hell, let’s just arm ourselves to the gills and shoot anyone we please because we didn’t get the lab rotation we wanted, we didn’t get into medical school, we didn’t get the job we wanted, we didn’t win the lottery, we didn’t get a promotion, we didn’t get the man/woman of our dreams, we didn’t get our favorite ice cream.

And yet, in the US we live in a society in which assault weapons are easily obtainable by almost anyone. It’s not about the right to own a gun for protection, it’s about the need for weapons that can injure or kill dozens of people in one pull of a trigger.  That’s not self-protection, that’s potential mass murder.

Months of meticulous planning went into the actions of the shooter prior to that night in Aurora nearly three years ago: surveying the theater to determine which theater had the fewest exits, purchasing the weapons and assault gear, practicing with the weapons, visiting a therapist to intentionally establish mental problems, ordering contact lenses (for the appearance of highly dilated pupils on the night of the shooting), and setting up the incendiary trap at his apartment.

His motive? To get back at humanity in the most gruesome manner possible because he was disappointed with his own life.

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