Five years after what was then America’s worst massacre, we’re just as vulnerable to terrorists among us as we were the night James Eagan Holmes opened fire during the Aurora theater shooting.
Time hasn’t dulled the panicky feeling I get when I recall the look on Tom Sullivan’s face outside Gateway High School as he desperately flailed a photo of his son, Alex Sullivan. Just hours after the shooting, when it was still unclear how many were dead or injured and who they were, a panicked Tom Sullivan begged other victims and rescuers for information about where his son was.
The memory is as visceral today as it was watching Tom five years ago. For that instant, I lost my child, too. That was just the beginning of a ghastly river of horror as details of the attack unfolded, all the while rescuers dealt with booby traps set by Holmes in his north-Aurora apartment.
That we could grow that kind of horror from within and so easily allow it to overwhelm us at a movie theater was baffling. As it turns out, we had stood by while a smart, awkward nerd from California, who was hopelessly sick, did this to us.
Five years hasn’t diminished that gripping shock when I recall those days of staggering death and terror. It’s just as astounding. So I don’t like or really understand these annual commemorations. It’s still too soon.
It’s still so fresh and sharp that it stuns me even more now as even deadlier attacks from within beset America.
How, after hundreds of children and dads and pals and lovers have been brutally gunned down in public can we, as a nation, shrug it off as just the price we pay for being a free country?
This isn’t freedom. Freedom isn’t a predictable panic every time a school or college shooting alert comes across your phone, petrified that it might be at your own kid’s school. I can’t justify terror and murder as the fair price to be paid for anything.
Rather than allow for adult conversations about what we can do to stem the growing herd of sick and warped Americans willing to murder strangers in public, we politicize it.
Mass murder is not a partisan affair. Ignoring it is.
And that’s exactly what Americans are doing here. In a country where no challenge has ever, ever been too great, the battle to keep our sickest friends, family members and neighbors from shooting us dead at malls, theaters, schools and night clubs isn’t beyond us, it’s just beyond discussing.
Held hostage by demented bullies at the National Rifle Association and their subservient puppets in Congress and state legislatures across the nation, politicians won’t even allow experts at agencies like the Center for Disease Control to study gun violence. We can’t even do the science because of politics. And as most Americans well know, science has saved Americans’ asses many times over. It can’t when it’s bound and gagged.
Like most Americans, I get it that we’re not going to gun-control ourselves to Nirvana. But there is a long list of common-sense gun limitations that deserve fair discussion and won’t because the NRA, their mindless gun-nutter minions and the politicians who suck up to them will not have it.
They are ready and willing to let you or someone you know be the next Tom Sullivan, drowning in terror and panic, begging gods and strangers that it wasn’t their son or daughter this time.
We have to have the discussion about gun controls because we don’t care about mentally ill people in this country. We know damned well that every one of these demented mass murderers was desperately sick. But for whatever reason, we pass off mental illness as weakness. I can’t imagine anyone telling a cancer victim to suck it up like we do someone having their sanity destroyed by their own brain.
Recently the country has panicked over what to about opioid addicts and lethal overdoses. Yet for endless decades, the death and misery toll from mental illness has dwarfed the opioid problem.
And now, even mental illness is off the table for discussion by the NRA regime. Imagine what a psychological competency test might look like, and imagine how many gun-extremists would fail such a test if it were required for gun ownership.
So I don’t like these anniversaries of tragedies. I do lament the wonderful lives lost or horribly changed by what Holmes did, but I can’t get beyond all the horror from that day and the days that followed. And I can’t get past the fact that five years after the Aurora Theater Shooting, more than 20 years after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Pulse, after hundreds of shooting victims, we haven’t done a damn thing. Surely we can do something to make next year’s anniversary mean something different.