The Gunman This Time

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By Francis Wilkinson

We have seen a photo of the alleged gunman. He looks different from the previous gunners. Yet somehow predictably the same. His modus operandus was unique, including, according to one report (destined to be revised later), a rifle, a handgun, a gas mask and "at least one additional weapon." But the bland violence, the robotic mowing-down, was also so familiar as to seem routine. His motivations no doubt were his own, the result of some sacred, churning resentment that was more than a fragile, isolated psyche could bear. But his reasons, when we learn them, will amount to another cliché -- hackneyed, juvenile, trite.

We Americans have grown as practiced at our roles in the ritual of mass murder as the killers themselves, mentally attending the stations: the fractured news bulletin, the dawning horror, the political point-scoring, the quicksand realization that, once again, our political system will offer nothing -- not one meaningful action -- to buffer the calamity.

Only fools believe there are easy answers to the problem of homicide by firearm. Guns are part of American culture. By some estimates, there are almost as many guns in the U.S. as there are people. The Supreme Court has recently closed a long and contentious debate by affirming a constitutional right of individuals to own guns, by the dozens if they so desire.

It is fine to point out that politicians from rural counties and states are unwilling to offend, let alone to confront, the National Rifle Association, whose bizarre pursuits in Congress and state legislatures increasingly border on fetishism. (Does a problem exist for which the NRA does not believe a loaded gun is the answer?) Still, politicians are malleable; they respond to the points where pressure is applied.

The clash of individual freedoms with collective interests is never easy. But the pursuit of happiness, singly or together, is predicated on liberty and on life. The victims in Aurora, like so many before them, were denied theirs. From Columbine to Virginia Tech, the drab details of the killer change. The constant is the gun.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

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-0- Jul/20/2012 23:11 GMT