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Learning about the meaning of community from callers to a morning talk show in Denver, Colorado.
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THERE WERE SEVERAL other interesting topics of discussion, ones that were less painful to talk about, over those difficult days in Denver:
One point of polite debate among callers was the notion — which I must admit would never have occurred to me — of praying for the shooter. While I still don’t really understand the idea, there was a substantial minority of listeners who said they understood why someone would do that.
And, as talk radio can do from time to time, the conversation caused me to learn something when a caller said she would probably pray for the shooter, not because she hoped or thought it would help him, but because it was an effective coping mechanism for her.
(In a CNN interview on Wednesday night, shooting victim Pierce O’Farrill, who opposes the death penalty, said, “I will pray for James Holmes, and I pray that he does get life in prison and those 30, 40, 50 years that he’s in prison that I pray that the Lord can find him in some way and change his heart…. I pray that he can find some regret and that he can find that place in his where it’s time for him to regret and to ask for forgiveness from the victims of all of this terrible tragedy.”)
Listeners were mostly supportive of the District Attorney’s decision to take input from the victims’ families on whether or not to seek the death penalty in the case. My reaction was “of course you would go for the death penalty,” but again, speaking with callers, I was reminded that in addition to justice there is an important goal of closure for the families of the victims. And closure, for some, might not come with a death sentence if that sentence meant the villain would be seen on TV again and again for a decade or two as the never-ending death sentence appeal process winds its way through the court system. I learned from callers that going for life without parole might not be, if you will pardon the term, as insane as I first thought it sounded.
Speaking of insane, there was near unanimity among listeners on whether someone convicted of a mass murderer should be executed even if found to be insane. Almost everybody said yes. I wonder whether that was due to the intensity of the emotions surrounding a massacre among our friends and neighbors, or whether this is something the majority of the population believes even when such mayhem is not in the news. Personally, I’m very conflicted about this issue. My inclination, to quote a listener, is “fry ‘em” but if there truly were a chemical issue or disease that prevented the perpetrator from knowing that what he was doing was wrong, and especially if that problem can be controlled with medicine or surgery, it is difficult (at least for me) to be certain that the state should take his life.
Three of the people who died in that movie theater — Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn, and Alex Teves, each in their twenties with bright futures ahead of them — were young men who jumped in front of their girlfriends to shield them from the killer; they literally took a bullet for someone they loved. A call I got on Sunday was from a young woman whose boyfriend shielded her as well; fortunately neither of them was injured. In other words, remarkable heroic behavior was even more widespread than just those who had the misfortune to lose their lives in the process. I can’t adequately express what this says about the character of the American male.
There will be plenty of survivor’s guilt among those who are alive today because three young heroes sacrificed themselves. But the focus needs to be on the heroism and the strong possibility that without the selfless acts of Blunk, McQuinn, and Teves, rather than three being dead, six would be dead. No young woman should go through the rest of her life thinking, “It should have been me.”
Then there are the heroes among the police officers. Imagine knowing that 911 has just received 50 to 100 calls about shots being fired in a movie theater. Imagine you arrive on scene to see injured people stumbling out of the theater and to see, smell, and feel some sort of gas or smoke — and that your reaction is “I need to get in there.” I’d like to think that I’d have that sort of courage, but frankly I doubt I would unless my own children were at risk.
MOVING ON to the topic of guns, which I did not discuss on the radio:
I own at least one gun similar to each weapon the murderer brought into the theater on that horrible night. I have to say that although I understand the issues and the principles, and although I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, it would have been hard for me last weekend to make a full-throated defense of gun rights, at least as strongly as I know I support those rights.
The point is not that my views were changed, but that such intense emotion causes those who want to regulate to be more aggressive (think Rahm “let no crisis go to waste” Emanuel), and those who usually stand up for freedom have their resolve weakened, even if only slightly and temporarily. I admit to feeling that way last weekend. Others, like the tremendous David Kopel, remain steel-spined.
In this context, I’m pleasantly surprised how little traction calls for increased gun regulation have had following last week’s events. The Obama administration has said twice that they will not put forward any new gun policy initiatives. For Obama, this is a purely political position; it is no secret that he hates guns and would ban them if he could.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has done a tremendous job of offering perspective and caring as the “chief mourner for the state,” said that “I’m not sure there is any way in a free society to be able” to stop an insane killer, and that “If there were no assault weapons available and no this or no that, this guy is going find something, right? He’s going to know how to create a bomb.”
Rapper Ice-T, of all people, when asked by a British interviewer (on the day of the movie theater killings) about his support of gun rights, said, “Well, I’d give up my gun when everybody else does.” He correctly stated that “The right to bear arms is because that’s the last form of defense against tyranny. Not to hunt. It’s to protect yourself from the police.” While Ice-T specifically mentioned the Constitution in his comments, and while one hopes his primary inspiration is the values of our nation’s Founding, you would be forgiven for wondering whether his views come from spending part of his childhood in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood where police were often perceived as the enemy. Ice-T is, after all, the author of the controversial 1992 song “Cop Killer.”
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