What caused 35-year-old George Hennard to shoot and kill 22 people and wound 20 others at a Luby's Cafeteria in Kileen, Texas, in 1991? Why did 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold kill 12 of their classmates and a teacher and wound 26 others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. in 1999? What was 44-year-old Terry Ratzmann thinking when he gunned down members of his congregation, killing seven and wounding four, as they worshipped in Brookfield, Wis., in 2005? What drove 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui to fatally shoot 32 people in a dorm and a classroom at Virginia Tech in 2007, and why did James Holmes allegedly kill 12 and wound 58 others at a theater in Aurora, Colo., last Friday?
The last few days have reflected the days following the Columbine shooting. The massacre during the showing of "Dark Knight Rises" has once again sparked debate over gun control laws, the availability of firearms in the United States and the influence of violent movies in American society. Right now, Holmes is not talking. No one seems to know what his motive was or what events or issues led him to allegedly open fire on the crowd who gathered at a theater to relax, be swept away by an action-packed film and enjoy an evening with family or friends.
Recent reports indicate that Holmes legally purchased four guns from gun shops in the Aurora, Colo., area in the 60 days prior to the shooting. He also purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition and a drum magazine that could fire 50 to 60 rounds per minute. In addition, he bought an assortment of explosive materials that were used to boobytrap his apartment, a gas mask, tear gas canisters, a ballistic helmet and vest and leg, groin and throat protectors. Were these items too readily available to Holmes? Should we all sacrifice our right to purchase and own these items just because one man used them to cause mayhem in a Colorado theater? Those are questions that will be asked for weeks and months to come, but isn't there another conversation that should develop from this senseless act of violence?
Over the last 21 years, there have been at least 14 mass shootings in the United States. Over 150 people have been killed during these tragic events and nearly 200 others have been wounded. Almost a dozen of these gunmen have committed suicide. Still other horrific acts have been committed using bombs and other means of violence. This weekend, as I watched the images and listened to the stories coming out of Aurora, Colo., I felt a sense of deja vu. I have seen so many of these events unfold on television over the last two decades. The images and stories, although very, very sad, are very similar to what I have seen in the past. If I am becoming desensitized to these events, how do those younger than myself feel?
I believe it is time to begin a new conversation. It is time to begin talking to our children, our neighbors and our friends about the value of human life. I know some of these gunmen were looking for revenge and others were looking for notoriety. The actions that were allegedly taken by Holmes are inexcusable, but I would like to issue a challenge to all Americans. Instead of focusing on gun control, let's focus on showing each person we meet that life is precious and living is not something to take for granted. In the words of John Lennon, "I may be a dreamer, but I'm not the only one," and I dream of a world where we are once again shocked by massacres in high schools and movie theaters. It is my hope that sharing a little extra compassion for our fellow Americans could stop someone looking to repeat one of these horrible events. Gun control debates don't seem to be getting us anywhere. Isn't it time for a new approach?