1. Happening or done for no purpose
--American Heritage Dictionary
A Google news search in the days after the mass movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado last week, that left 12 people dead and 58 injured, turned up one word more than any other, in comments by people trying to talk about the event: “senseless”. Especially in the somber remarks by public leaders, “senseless” was the common descriptor. President Obama: “Such violence, such evil is senseless.” Governor Mitt Romney: “Ann and I are deeply saddened by the news of the senseless violence that took the lives of 15(sic) people in Colorado and injured dozens more.” House Speaker John Boehner: “Words cannot capture the horror, or make sense of something so senseless.”
That “senseless” is perpetually used in our human attempts to fathom such tragedies like the Aurora event makes “sense” in a way. When we are confronted by random and cold blooded acts of violence; when it happens in as mundane a place as a mall Cineplex; when all of the folks who died or were hurt were truly innocent, there is a feeling of powerlessness that can take hold. Things are just senseless, cannot be explained or fit into any world view. It makes us wonder, “Is there anything I can do?”
America as a community has done some things in response. Since Friday night last, millions of prayers have been offered, public and private, and that’s good. Memorial services and funerals have begun and that’s right. American flags fly at half-staff in an effort to make this event a communal event. The media, for better and worse is doing a lot, burying us under all the facts of the story, the tender biographies of those who died, the tales of heroism, the investigation of this man who pulled the trigger. Still it all feels senseless.
And yet: what if beyond all of the individual and civic acts of compassion and mourning, we as a nation decided to do more than grieve and anxiously question? What if our leaders moved beyond words of comfort to words of action? What if they said we as a country must do something right now about gun violence in America? We must better control and license and oversee and regulate the ownership of guns in the United State. We must respond and try, at least try, to make sure something like Aurora won’t happen again.
Aurora and the other all too similar mass shootings are not isolated events, rare, or unprecedented. In fact these seem all too common here in America. Just weeks ago a gunmen opened up in gunfire in a bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Remember the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Tuscon, Arizona? College shootings at Virginia Tech? School shootings in Paducah, Mississippi, and Columbine, Colorado? It keeps happening and yet we seem as a nation unwilling or unable to take even small steps towards getting the guns out of the hands of those who would kill. Maybe that’s senseless too.
Take the shooter’s weapon of choice in Aurora: the AR-15 assault rifle. Why is such a murderous gun legal to purchase, own and operate in the United States? From 1994 to 2004 it was actually outlawed under federal law but that statute was allowed to lapse. The AR-15 isn’t a hunting rifle. It isn’t the kind of weapon a homeowner would want to use to protect himself. The gun was originally manufactured to be used by soldiers in wartime.
Why would anyone want to own one? Need to possess such a killing machine? Why was it so easy for the Aurora shooter to walk into a local gun shop and buy one? Why was it so simple for him to order 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet? Why aren’t these realities seen as “senseless” too, as also making absolutely no sense?
It’s almost as if we as Americans have gotten too used to random, awful, terrible happenings like the mass killings in Colorado. The sad truth is that in another month or so, in another “normal” place like a quiet suburb or a college campus or a movie theater, someone else will again go crazy and cradle an assault rifle and then pull the trigger and it will happen all over again. Or, maybe not.
Maybe our politicians might finally grow backbones and challenge the arrogant power of the National Rifle Association (NRA), which spent $3 million dollars in 2011 to lobby Washington for gun owner rights and so-called “Second Amendment freedoms”. Do not doubt that if the NRA got behind a renewed assault weapons ban it would happen immediately. Problem is they never met a gun control law they didn’t fight against with all the influence they could muster. Maybe Obama and Romney might revisit their stances against assault weapons each took in the past: Obama as a candidate, and Romney as Massachusetts Governor. I pray that’s not too much to ask in an election year.
But this I do know. Mass deaths by assault rifles will forever be senseless unless these national cataclysms move us to change the rules, to tighten up gun laws, and to have sane and sensible gun control legislation which both respects gun ownership rights while protecting the public from these weapons. In the end an assault rifle is designed to do just one thing: to kill and to do so at 90 rounds per minute, or even more, or even faster. That is truly senseless.
So absolutely: may we as a people of faith and fellow citizens, pray for all those killed, injured and traumatized in Aurora. But then let’s act too, do something, anything, to attempt to ensure that it will not happen again. Now that makes sense.