Following the mass murder in a Colorado movie theater last Thursday night, I had the "opportunity," a word I choose carefully, to host 12 hours of talk radio over three consecutive mornings, from Saturday (when I had a co-host) through Monday, on Denver's NewsRadio 850 KOA.
I went into the first show with some sense of dread. After all, what does one say -- and what does one expect to hear from callers -- about the death of a dozen innocents, a dozen members of our community who were people's sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, friends and lovers?
And about the injuries, some of them critical, to fifty more, including 25-year old Ashley Moser who was shot three times, including a bullet to the neck which has left her paralyzed and who, more importantly, learned about 48 hours after the shooting that her six year old daughter, Veronica, had been killed in the theater. The main reason the pregnant Ashley Moser clings to her will to live is the miracle that her unborn child has survived Ashley's having also been shot in the abdomen. [A sad update: On July 29th, it was reported that Ashley Moser suffered a miscarriage after surgery related to her gunshot wounds.]
For several reasons, I made a decision -- and lived by it -- not to mention the killer's name on the air. I also refused to take calls about, or have discussions about, gun laws, the Second Amendment, Republicans or Democrats, Obama or Romney, or anything not primarily related to celebrating the lives of the victims, honoring heroes, and supporting our community in any way I could.
The thing was, I really doubted that there was any way I could.
It turned out I was wrong, though credit goes not to me -- I acted as little more than a facilitator -- but to the remarkable citizens of Aurora, Denver, and elsewhere in Colorado, who called in with personal stories, stories that I would have been either hesitant or unable to speak were I in their shoes.
It wasn't obvious to me going into the conversation that it would move in the direction it did. In hindsight, perhaps it should have been because there is no teacher like experience. And particularly no teacher like the experience of a deeply traumatic past event, at least for those fortunate enough to be able to return to a semblance of a normal life.
One man called to tell the story of his mother, Rose Brown, who was lined up on the floor, face down, along with five other National Supermarket employees and shot in the back of the head by a group of men who decided to rob the store, and then shoot the witnesses. Only two of the men were caught and neither received the death penalty.
One man called to tell the story of finding his brother's body -- after his brother had been stabbed 104 times.
One man called to tell the story of his sister: Her crazed ex-husband murdered their less-than-one year old daughter in front of her, and then tortured and killed her.
And there were others who called in with their own painful, if somewhat less dramatic, stories of personal loss.
None of these people called in response to my asking for stories about loss, since I did not do that. Instead they called to tell the listening audience what they did to get through the anger, the heartbreak, the gaping wound of such losses. They called not for sympathy, but to help others.
And I think they truly did.
Indeed, they helped me.
As I mentioned on the air on Monday, that day would have been my younger brother's 43rd birthday had Cliff not died in an accident shortly after I moved to Colorado in 2004. July 23rd is always a very difficult day for me, and while talking about it on the air even briefly was no easy task, I felt the power of community when a man called in to tell the story of his son, who was killed at the age of 21 when riding as a passenger with a friend who was driving drunk. That man's son's birthday was also July 23rd. Somehow, our shared day of loss made each of us feel ever so slightly better.
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."
We're lucky to have these people -- even Ice-T -- because we have so many others, the liberal "elite," who live in the cloisters of Manhattan or Hollywood or Congress and don't have a clue.
Obviously, the prime example is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who called for more gun control within minutes of the news and said in an interview on CNN on Monday night that police officers across the country should go on strike (or at least threaten to) if legislators don't enact stronger gun laws. In other words, police should refuse to protect citizens unless government makes sure citizens can't protect themselves.
Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat whose district includes the movie theater where the murders took place, waited a full 48 hours before calling for a renewal of the assault weapons ban -- even though that ban had no measurable impact on gun crime. Perlmutter received a not-so-subtle rebuke from Gov. Hickenlooper, who said the next day, "I think the discussions of do we need stricter laws should probably wait until the families have grieved, and at least until we bury the people who we lost."
Also only two days after the massacre, actor Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame proclaimed that some on the so-called "extreme right… believe that the US government is eventually going to go street by street and enslave our citizens. Now as long as that is only happening to liberals, homosexuals and democrats [sic] - no problem. But if they try it with anyone else - it's going to be arms-ageddon and these committed, God-fearing, brave souls will then use their military-esque arsenal to show the forces of our corrupt government whats-what."
To be fair, not all of Alexander's note was paranoid leftist fantasy; he was being as reasonable as he could, which is more than one can say of some other anti-gun nuts such as the leftist Amanda Marcotte who tweeted, as reported by Spectator's Robert Stacy McCain, that "It was desegregation that caused white America to believe that the government had stopped 'protecting' them, and so they needed guns."
She didn't stop there. On her own website, Marcotte wrote "I grew up around gun nuts and can tell you that in my long experience, the number of guns in your closet directly correlated with your fondness for the N-word."
Got that? If you support the Second Amendment, you're a racist.
And as if Colorado hasn't suffered enough, Jesse Jackson announced plans to visit the emotionally devastated town of Aurora on Thursday to meet with a family of one victim, discuss gun control, and -- as is typical for one of the nation's leading parasites -- hold a press conference near the killer's apartment.
FINALLY, I MUST MENTION again the incredible behavior of ABC News. Investigative reporter Brian Ross, whom my American Spectator colleague, Jed Babbin, wrote an article about nearly two years ago outing Mr. Ross as a liar, came on to ABC's Good Morning America and implied that "a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado" who has a page on a Colorado Tea Party organization's web site might (or might not) have been the shooter.
While ABC and Ross apologized, that misses the point. First, the blame is as much with the show's anchor, George Stephanopoulos, as with Brian Ross, because Stephanopoulos, who introduced Ross as having "found something that might be significant" knew what Mr. Ross was going to say, that he was going to say something inflammatory and nearly libelous, on the flimsiest of evidence.
Even the Daily Show's Jon Stewart castigated Ross and Stephanopoulos, asking "What story does a guy have to blow to get in trouble at ABC?" and why Mr. Ross did not say "I'm really f***ing sorry." Stewart hypothesized Brian Ross' thought process: "When I was Googling his name, I saw the phrase 'the Tea Party' and I thought, oh that's a pre-existing narrative. I should get that on the TV!" As Stewart noted with his usual comic cynicism, Mr. Ross caused actual harm to an innocent man, "and this dude isn't even grounded, doesn't get detention?!?"
Second, this was not a rush to scoop the competition on a big story. It was a rush to blame the Tea Party -- just as they initially did with the madman who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others, six of whom died, in Arizona on January 8, 2011 (here, here, and this year here) and just as Mayor Bloomberg initially did when a Muslim terrorist tried to set off a bomb in Times Square. Do you remember that one? Bloomberg told CBS News' Katie Couric that his guess as to who was behind the failed terrorist attack was "maybe a mentally deranged person or somebody with a political agenda that doesn't like the health care bill or something." In other words, there is no difference between a lunatic and someone who opposes Obamacare, and no likely difference in their behavior.
I've only touched on a few of the dozens of things to discuss and lessons to learn from the horrible events of last Thursday night. Perhaps the most important for me, however, was the remarkable power of feeling connected to people I didn't even know -- a feeling that I'm sure the left would deny that I and other non-liberals are even capable of.
Community First Foundation, a longstanding community foundation, has established the Aurora Victim Relief Fund in partnership with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. This fund will only be used to meet the immediate and long-term needs of victims and their families and, as funds are available, the broad needs of those affected in the community. Community First Foundation has waived all fees for the administration of this fund.
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