The news of yet another shooting spree in the USA, this time at a crowded cinema in the Colorado town of Aurora, has shocked but perhaps not surprised many. There are several instances every year of multiple fatalities due to the use of firearms across the country. There were twelve dead this time, and 58 injured, but there will be more, and, well, that’s how it is in the land of the Second Amendment.
The right to bear arms, and the lobby that supports it, are so powerful right now that even a Democrat President did not mention what has been said so many times in the past after one of these incidents – the phrase “gun control”. The shooter, James Eagan Holmes, had purchased the four guns recovered at the scene (which included a civilian version of the military M-16 semi-automatic) legally.
So far, so grim, but what is worse nowadays is the move, particularly by right-wing groups, to politicise such killings. There had been failings in this department by both right and left after the shooting near Tucson, AZ in January 2011 that had grievously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, both claiming the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, supported the other side. He had registered, but as an Independent.
Fortunately, after the Aurora shootings, influential sites like the Daily Kos took a factual approach: “Here’s what we know about the person identified as the theater shooter” was followed by “Here’s an update on what we know about the Colorado theater shootings”. Holmes acted alone. It was confirmed early on that he had not been in the military. He had booby-trapped his apartment.
Sadly, that approach was not replicated on the right, at the site bearing the name, and carrying the message, of the late Andrew Breitbart: an “Exclusive” asserted that “Shooting Suspect James Holmes Could Be Registered Democrat”. Yes, someone went on a shooting rampage, there are dozens injured, 12 are dead, and someone is hollering “It’s the leftists”.
That kind of thing may invoke disbelief on this side of the North Atlantic, but the rhetoric appeals to the Paranoid tradition in US politics, the kind that brought the Red Scares and Joseph McCarthy, and is now being used to demonise just about anything being done by any Government agency anywhere. Breitbart, in his last days, was very wound up about the left. So his followers were, and still are.
After all, when he died suddenly last year, the thought that he had been getting himself just a little too hyper while indulging in a lifestyle of maximum enjoyment and minimum healthiness was not allowed to enter by some supporters. There are many out there that hold to the belief that his heart condition was not the cause of death, but that Barack Obama done it.
That much is free speech. But to go on to politicise mass shootings is just sick.