Saturday, July 28, 2012

What's Going On

People go to the movies for escapism and fantasy. When you're watching a movie you can become part of the action. You can live vicariously through the characters on the screen. That's the beauty of movies. 

I used to love going to the movies with a few good friends who shared the experience with me. We fell in love with the characters, or wanted to be some of the heroes on the screen. We were transported to exotic or thrilling locations. The movies stimulated and inspired us. 

I think I saw every Hayley Mills movie ever made when she was a young movie star. I suppose she was my idol. I wanted to be a spunky, cheerful, bright young girl. I loved her English accent although it was hard to buy in the movie Parent Trap with two American parents. Still, I was willing to suspend reality to enjoy the movies.

That is why it bothers me so much that some crazy guy chose that location to  enact his heinous crime. He burst the magical bubble of fantasy, and he tarnished the joy of going to the movies.

At midnight July 20, 2012 James Holmes stood up front, in a packed theater, at the screening of The Dark Knight Rises, a Batman movie, and began shooting into the audience. He sent shock waves of terror through a crowd of movie goers, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. There has never been a theater shooting until that day. Less than a week later, another such plot was thwarted. Insanity breeds insanity. 

The first school shooting was August 1, 1966 at the University of Texas. Charles Whitman climbed a 28 story clock tower overlooking the campus around noon and killed 14 people, and his wife and mother beforehand. He ended up killing himself. After his death, officials found suicide notes requesting an autopsy. Whitman had been a model student, husband and son until recently before his rampage. He became an Eagle Scout when he was 12 years old. Nothing in his life could account for his bizarre murder spree. The autopsy revealed a brain tumor on the area of the brain that controls impulses. Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams were created to prepare for any future attacks because of Whitman's massacre. 

There have been 27 mass casualty shootings since Columbine High School in Denver, Colorado on April 20, 1999. The Columbine killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, gunned down classmates, killing 13, and themselves. Ten years after the massacre, evidence came to light that everything that had been reported in the media about them was untrue. They were not in the Trenchcoat Mafia, they were not bullied, but they were bullies, and they hated everyone. Harris, by all accounts, appeared to be a psychopath. Klebold felt worthless and miserable. Together they created a caustic team. Information was gleaned from personal diaries, witnesses, police reports, and emails.

The most deadly killing was the Virginia Tech massacre which happened April 16, 2007 when Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks two hours apart. Six other people were injured escaping through classroom windows. Cho committed suicide.

The massacre at Virginia Tech was also the worst act of mass murder on college students on campus, since Syracuse University lost 36 students in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. It was better known as the Lockerbie bombing which happened on December 21, 2008 killing 259 passengers and crew, and 11 people on the ground from falling debris. 

A rash of killings has spread across our nation. The expression "going postal" refers to several postal carriers who carried out attacks on management, fellow workers, police, and civilians from 1986 to 1997. More than 40 people were gunned down in the workplace by irate postal workers.

November 4, 2009 another disturbing attack took place at Fort Hood Military Base when an American army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Hasad, age 39, fired on his fellow soldiers, attacking and killing 13 soldiers and civilians, and wounding 31. Hasad was shot and paralyzed by armed soldiers on the base. Hasad was a radical Muslim who exhibited signs of anti-Americanism, who disturbed his fellow soldiers but warnings were ignored until it was too late. He is awaiting trial.

Attacks have been carried out by lone gunmen, or sometimes two or more gunmen, working together to take down people. The Beltway snipers sent a chill of fear throughout Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia until they were apprehended in October 2002. Two men, John Allen Mohammed and Lee Boyd Malvo, killed 10 people from the camouflage of a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice sedan, that had been altered for them to lie down and shoot from the car. One drove as the other shot victims. Mohammed was executed. Malvo is serving life in prison.

No normal person can understand how someone can go on a murderous killing spree and very few people can understand the grace of forgiveness. That is why it is so heartening to also mention the tragic and senseless killing of the children who were gunned down by a madman who held them hostage in a one-room school house in an Amish community in Pennsylvania. 

On October 2, 2006 a milkman, Charles Carl Roberts Jr., converged on a small classroom of students and adults with weapons and held them hostage. He released the women and boys but kept the girls behind. He terrorized the little girls until two girls offered to be the first to be executed, hoping to buy time for the others to escape. He killed 5 of the little girls, and wounded 5 others. He shot them in the back of the head. Suicide letters told of deviant, uncontrollable desires and past indiscretions which were later denied by the supposed victims.

The Amish communities reaction was unexpected and truly remarkable. They forgave the killer and even reached out in compassion to the shooter's family. Even in their sorrow they had compassion for a madman's family who were just as confused and shocked as the community around them. The Amish people do not believe in having insurance so the community raised funds to help them pay medical bills. Some victims will have medical requirements for the rest of their lives.

Three school shootings happened that week. Two others were the Platte Canyon High School shooting on September 27, 2007 and Weston High School shooting on September 29. The National School Safety and Security Services has statistics on school shootings.

Each time a violent attack happens people debate the value of stricter gun laws and whether or not we as a society perpetuate the violence and rage that people experience because of music, or video games, or movies, or some other nonsense. The debate has been going on since Charles Whitman climbed the tower steps on his fateful journey into madness 46 years ago. The same debate goes on today.

Violence and destruction are ingrained in our culture. Television has taken us into the midst of war. The power of television helped end the Vietnam war. Seeing death and carnage on the evening news, watching human suffering and an endless war gave us no appetite for war during my youth. Too bad young men grow up to be old men ready for war. Young men dance on marionette's strings. 

I don't know how we can stop people from going on a murderous rampage but I do know that it is too easy for people to get weapons. I cannot understand how anyone would think it's a good idea to have an assault weapon. The only people that need to handle them are the military and law enforcement. Hunting with an assault weapon is unsportsmanlike.

The government should have a national computer data base and require every gun buyer or seller to register all guns and ammunition bought or sold. Anyone buying and stockpiling artillery in patterns or large quantities could be red flagged and local law enforcement could investigate suspicious activity. We have data bases tracking automobiles and drivers licenses and auto insurance. It would be very easy for the government to monitor gun sales and safeguard our country so that we don't put ourselves in the hands of people who would do us harm when we least expect it. Homegrown terrorists are a frightening reality. 

I'm not saying every gun owner should have to register his weapons. I'm just saying that we can start from here to create a safer society in which we will be able to trace a terrorist stockpiling weapons if all weapons bought or sold are put in a monitored data base.

When we grew up, boys went hunting all the time and knew how to use a shotgun. Society has changed and most men don't go hunting anymore but the ones who do deserve the right to own and use their weapons. They provide a valuable necessity to the community keeping the animal population manageable. But owning powerful, dangerous, weapons that can kill dozens of people in seconds should not be condoned in America.

We need to invest more time and money in medical and psychiatric care. Too many people fall through the cracks. There are bound to be more instances of violence in the coming years. God help us all. 

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