For a long time, I stared at the TV when the BREAKING NEWS banner scrolled along the bottom of the screen. My first thought was something along the lines of, “Yet another Columbine-esque massacre,” and then I began to think about how it must have felt to be a member of the audience, sitting in a darkened theater, enjoying a movie night with friends, when all of a sudden, smoke fills the room and gunshots go off. The confusion, the panic, the rush for the exit… the terrifying thought that this might be the last time you see your friends, your family… and it scared me.
A few hours later, the TV screen showed a picture of the alleged killer and some things about him: 24-year-old James Holmes, who is the same age as me, graduated from high school and college the same years I did, and who was labeled quiet, shy, loner, smart, weird – traits that have been used to label me. I am willing to bet that the guy played first-person shooters, listened to metal music, wore a lot of black, was bullied in high school, was on medication for a mental disorder (or ought to have been on medication)… in short, all the usual stereotypes about these types of killers.
The big argument (as is always the argument in these types of cases) is about gun control. My theory on guns is that guns don’t kill people: people kill people. If guns did not exist, people would find many alternate ways to kill and maim each other. It’s just that guns are relatively easier to use, quicker, less messier, and more impersonal than other methods of killing. Guns should be made more difficult to obtain, but totally taking away Second Amendment rights isn’t going to resolve anything.
There is a certain type of person who kills others or inflicts self-harm: people who are under mental distress of some kind. In a “normal” person with no history of mental illness or distress, killing can sometimes be justified in cases of self-defense, defense of others, or in war. James Holmes was an extremely intelligent person. He was in a PhD program. But intelligence does not always equal rational thought. Even the most intelligent people can have irrational thought patterns, brought on by drugs, mental illnesses, traumatic events in their past, etc. Irrational thought becomes rational the more you think about it and ruminate on it. It’s like all those times you were angry or depressed – you fell into irrational thought patterns: everyone hates me, I want to beat so-and-so’s brains in, I’m worthless, the world is better off without me, people are predators and are destroying the world and deserve to be killed, etc.
James Holmes planned the killing, and he planned it well. My theory is that he had developed irrational thought patterns for whatever reason, those irrational thought patterns continued to develop in his mind, and he began to believe that irrationality was, in fact, rational. He had deluded himself. He presumably was a loner, so he presumably had very few people who listened to him and talked to him. Presumably, he had a deep inner life, as many loners do. He presumably chose not to let others into that inner life. There was probably little anyone could have done to deter him from his irrational mental path, once he had convinced himself and his mind was made up.
I am trying to understand the killer’s motive, whatever motive that may have been. There is a huge lack of understanding in the world, and I have always believed that, before we expect others to understand us, we would do well to sit back and understand others first. Of course, understanding will not bring back the lives that were taken. It will not erase the traumatic memories the victims will hold of that night. But understanding prevents future tragedies from occurring. Take the time to understand, do not write off others’ feelings.
Michael Moore: If you were to talk to the kids at Columbine or the people in that community, what would you say to them if they were here right now?
Marilyn Manson: I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say and that’s what no one did.
—Bowling for Columbine, 2002