Good evening everybody and welcome to In the News. Glad you could be with us again tonight. Two Fridays ago, on July 21st, several hundred people gathered in a movie theater in Aurora, CO, which is a suburb of Denver, to catch the premiere of the Dark Knight Rises, the latest release in the Batman movie series. The sold out crowd waited in line, some for hours, to get their tickets to be among the first to see the movie on its opening night. They bought their popcorn and their snacks, found their way into the theater and settled into their seats.
About 30 minutes into the show, one of the audience members, a single male, got up from his seat, walked toward the front of the theater, and exited through an emergency door near the screen. He returned minutes later reentering through the same door which he had left propped open. He casually walked in, and threw 2 smoke canisters into the aisles. When audience members got up from their seats in confusion, he pulled one of the 4 guns he had armed himself with and opened fire on them.
He steadily and calmly fired into the crowd with few signs of excitement or emotion. He paused only once, according to witness accounts, presumably to reload. After a few minutes, he stopped walked out the same door and proceeded toward the parking lot.
Police arrived within minutes of the shooting and found the suspect by his car behind the theater. According to authorities it would have been entirely possible to mistake him for a swat team member because of the way he was both armed and dressed. Police found on him an AR-15 assault rifle, which is a military grade weapon similar to an AK-47, a 12-guage shotgun and 2 .40 caliber handguns. In addition, he was dressed nearly head to toe, in black body armor. He had on a bullet proof helmet, vest, and leggings; he had throat and groin protectors, a gas mask and gloves. He looked as though he was ready for battle.
Victims of the shooting were rushed to area hospitals. Many of them scared and confused, trying to make sense of what had just taken place. Many told authorities that at first they believed the attack was part of the movie. A promotional stunt staged by the theater. The gunman had dyed his hair red and according to eyewitnesses yelled, “I am the joker,” just before opening fire. Apparently referring to Batman’s arch rival in the movie. All in all 12 people were killed in the attack, and 58 were injured.
Unfortunately the shooter’s depravity wasn’t just isolated to the theater either. Authorities learned through questioning him that the suspect had booby trapped his apartment with explosives that were meant to harm anyone who entered it looking for him. He had rigged the apartment with an intricate web of wires and bottles filled with chemicals and bullets. Authorities said that they had never seen anything like this.
The suspect, identified as 24 year-old James Holmes, was enrolled in the graduate program for neuroscience at the University of Colorado. He is described as being a highly intelligent person but one who kept to himself. What people noticed most about him, it’s reported, is the fact that he was always alone.
He has an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Riverside, where he graduated with honors with a degree in neuroscience. He is remembered there as being a brilliant student. University Chancellor Tim White said at a recent press conference, “Academically he was at the top of the top.”
After graduating from UC Riverside, he won a prestigious grant from the National Institutes of Health to study neuroscience at the University of Colorado at Denver. It’s a high honor in the field of Health and Science. Only 6 such grants are handed out every year. And he was one of them. So it seemed as though he were headed for big things.
As well as he performed academically in San Diego, he began performing poorly on his school work this spring in Denver. He was in no danger of failing out of the program, but the school was considering some remedial steps to help him. And they were considering placing him on academic probation. Instead, in early June, James Holmes to the surprise of some began the process of dropping out.
We don’t yet know for sure if these difficulties were what finally put him over the edge. What is known is that he began building an arsenal of weapons a few months ago. Authorities have learned that the 4 guns were purchased at local gun shops within 60 days prior to the shooting. He had also purchased, through the internet, more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition for his various weapons. He purchased several magazines for the assault rifle. One of them was a 100 round drum magazine. Which basically gave him the ability to fire up to 60 rounds per minute.
The shooter’s in custody now and has since been charged with 24 counts of murder, 2 for each of the victims, as well as 116 counts of attempted murder. Because he told the authorities about the traps and explosives in his apartment, authorities were able to call in the bomb squad and disarm those traps without injury to anyone else, and we thank God for that. Now the immediate shock of the incident has passed. And all that’s left now is to try and make sense of yet another senseless act of violence has taken place in this country.
So the conversation has, not surprisingly, turned to the gun control debate. Proponents of tighter gun control laws cite the availability of guns, and how easy it is to obtain them, and they say that’s what contributes to incidents like this happening. Opponents argue that even the tightest gun control laws won’t prevent people who are intent on committing violence from doing so. They’ll just find another way to do it. That’s the familiar, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, argument.
In fact, some gun rights advocates take the position that more guns are the answer, not less. They argue that if more people owned and used guns, would-be bad guys like this would be less inclined to use them, for fear of their own safety. They argue that if one of the people in the Aurora movie theater for example, was armed, perhaps James Holmes might have been stopped.
I think gun violence is becoming a crisis in this country, if not already there. This is the sixth mass shooting in this country this year. Number six. And aside from the mass shootings, gun violence is a daily phenomenon in this country. The Center for Disease Control reports that 33 people are murdered by gun violence every day in this country. Every single day. So that’s basically 3 Aurora’s worth of victims that happen in this country on a daily basis.
George Stephanopoulos host of ABC’s This Week program which airs on Sundays, recently interviewed Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, to get his reaction to the Aurora shooting. He had some comments that really made me think. I’d like to play you a little bit of what he said. Here’s a clip of Police Chief Ramsey with George Stephanopoulos:
STEPHANOPOULOS: The other thing that -- coming out of this, is I was talking to Pierre Thomas about this earlier, background checks didn't turn up anything on James Holmes. He had a pretty clean record.
RAMSEY: And listen, gun control isn't going to totally stop this sort of thing from happening. But what I deal with is the day-to-day violence that takes place on the streets of Philadelphia. We had a person shot and killed in broad daylight yesterday. Overnight, we had another homicide as the result of gun violence. We had a party in North Philadelphia, where five people were shot; fortunately none killed.
This is a daily occurrence for me. And chiefs across the country. So this is not just one incident where people are able to get their hands on firearms, although I have an issue with people being able to buy ammunition and weapons on the Internet, for an example. I don't know why people need to have assault weapons. There needs to be reasonable gun control put in place. And we talk about this constantly, and absolutely nothing happens, because many of our legislators, unfortunately, at the federal level, lack the courage to do anything.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Last question, what precisely would you do if you were king?
RAMSEY: I would put in place some reasonable gun control laws. I don't think you ban all guns. That's not the solution. Most people are reasonable and legitimate gun owners. But why not have registration, why not have mandatory recording of any sale or transfer of a firearm that's done privately? Why not ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines? I mean, we don't need this stuff. And you have got to have serious consequences for people who commit crime using a handgun, and I mean very, very, stiff prison sentences.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Commissioner Ramsey, thanks for your time this morning.
RAMSEY: Thank you.
Police Chief Ramsey with George Stephanopoulos. I’m not an expert on gun control or crime prevention, but if the commissioner of the 4th largest police department in the nation is saying that this is a daily problem for him and that something needs to be done, that’s something that needs to get all of our attention.
Gun rights advocates contend that gun control laws won’t eliminate crime or gun violence. Of course it won’t. But here’s the question I have. Is that the right criteria on which we should judge possible solutions? Whether or not something will completely eliminate gun violence? Of course there is no one thing that will completely solve this problem. If there were we probably would have done it by now. The correct question to ask, it seems to me, is whether a possible solution will help solve this problem. Whether it will bring us closer to the goal of eliminating gun violence. And if it’s deemed that the answer is yes, then we should consider it.
One fact that jumped out at me about the Aurora shooting is the response time of the Police. The Police responded to the theater within 90 seconds of the attack. A minute and a half. And even with authorities so close, and with them being on the scene as fast as they were, the shooter still managed to cause as much harm as he did. There’s no doubt that guns play a role in making such deadly attacks so easy to carry out.
Gun violence is a prevalent problem in this country. And we have to start addressing it. There’s no doubt that a comprehensive strategy has to encompass a lot of different solutions. For example, I think we need to look at how we diagnose and treat mental illness and potential mental illness in this country. I think we also have to take a look at how fractured and isolating our society has become. But if a comprehensive solution to this problem also calls for us to take a look at our gun control laws, then I think we have to do that too.
We should do it in a way that is respectful of law abiding gun owners, who are the vast majority of gun owners. And we should to do it in a way that is mindful of our second amendment rights. The right to bear arms is one of the most sacred rights we have. But we have to do it nonetheless. This problem is becoming too serious for us to leave any solutions off the table.
Well that’s our show for tonight, we hope you enjoyed. Thanks for tuning in. Remember to keep sending us your comments. You can send those in to email@example.com. Include your name and town and we may just read your comment on the air. Thanks again everybody. See you next time. Good night.