US seeks explanation to killings
When America woke up to the terrible news yesterday morning, it strained to seek a rational explanation.
Police and the FBI said the shooter “was not part of a terrorist nexus”. The Pentagon checked records to see if he had served in the military; could he have been unhinged by violence in Baghdad or Kabul? Politics flashed through a few minds. The 12 dead and 59 wounded were watching a midnight showing of the latest Batman film.
The right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh had claimed Democrats chose the villain’s name, Bane, like the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s old firm, Bain Capital. One of the film’s stars, Morgan Freeman, had donated $1 million to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
If the absurd idea of a political connection was quickly discarded, a link with the film was not.
Warner Brothers cancelled the scheduled premiere in Paris last night. New York police commissioner Raymond Kelly asked his officers to watch screenings of The Dark Knight Rises to prevent copycat shootings.
By lunchtime, it emerged that James Eagen Holmes (24), the gunman who mowed down couples, friends and families as they sat in their cinema seats or tried to flee, was a failing doctoral student.
He had booby-trapped his apartment with chemicals, incendiary devices and tripwires before bursting into the nearby cinema in ersatz black battle dress.
Police chief Dan Oates refused to speculate on his motive.
President Obama was woken with the news at 5.26am by his homeland security adviser John Brennan.
In an emotional, six-minute speech in Florida, where he curtailed campaign events, Obama said the massacre was a “reminder that life is fragile” and that “our time here is limited and it is precious, and what matters at the end of the day is . . . how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.”
Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who was campaigning in New Hampshire, were both in hotly contested swing states. Both spoke gravely, with almost biblical solemnity, of the mass killing.
Both suspended the vicious attacks that have characterised their recent exchanges.
“We may never understand what leads anybody to terrorise their fellow human beings like this,” Obama said. “Such violence, such evil is senseless.”
Like Obama, Romney spoke of heartbreak, tragedy and prayer. Both men spoke of hugging their children a little tighter, of bringing the killer to justice.
“Today, we feel not only a sense of grief, but perhaps also of helplessness,” Romney said. There was something we could do, he added.
“We can offer comfort to someone nearest to the suffering . . . We can mourn with those who mourn in Colorado.”
Neither presidential candidate mentioned the obvious, that there are as many guns as people in the US – more than 300 million, and that 30,000 people die annually in the US from gunshot wounds – a rate eight times higher than other countries of comparable wealth.
One in four Americans owns firearms and the average gun owner possesses four weapons – the number James Holmes took to the cinema massacre.
Yesterday’s killings took place just 13 miles from Littleton, Colorado, where two teenage students armed with guns and bombs opened fire inside Columbine High School in April 1999. They killed 13 people and wounded 23 others, before taking their own lives.
Obama talked about unity, as he had in Tucson in January 2011, after an earlier mad gunman killed six and wounded 18 others, including congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Then, as yesterday, he eluded the obvious need for gun control in the US.
The question was raised with Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, who waffled: “The president believes that we need to take commonsense measures that protect second amendment rights of Americans, while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing law do not get them.”
Every politician in the US knows better than to offend the National Rifle Association, especially in an election year.
So the obvious went unsaid, almost.
“Soothing words are nice,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York commented bitterly, “but maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it . . . specifically, what are they going to do about guns?”