Aurora Tragedy Illuminates Need for Increased Gun Control

Last night, crowds across the United States eagerly crowded into movie theaters to see the latest installment of the Batman franchise. With popcorn and candy in hand, with giggling children shushed by older patrons, everyone anticipated a normal night at the movies. But for some, the casual night out was marked by another horrific shooting.

According to reports, 24-year-old gunman James Holt, a former neuroscience student at the University of California - Riverside, entered an Aurora, Colorado theater wearing a gas mask. After throwing a smoke or tear bomb into the crowd, he approached the front of theater screen and opened fire on the crowd. Over 71 were injured while 12 were left dead. 

Accounts of the scene are shocking. Witnesses have told harrowing tales of screaming, bloody people scrambling out the doors. 

After horrible events like these, we often ask ourselves the question “why?” In this case, the answer is clear. Looking at the long list of mass shootings in the past few years - Columbine in 1999, Virginia Tech in 2007, the 2007 Omaha shooting, the 2008 Alger, WA shooting, the 2009 Alabama shootings, the 2009 Fort Hood shootings and the 2011 shootings in Tuscon - it is impossible to deny that our country has a problem with guns.

Notwithstanding the shootings, the large-scale drug use in certain parts of the country can also be linked to gun violence. 

In the wake of this tragic event, citizens and government officials alike have called for a re-examination of federal gun laws. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was one of the first to speak out publicly, saying: “You know, soothing words are nice, 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, because this is obviously a problem across the country.”

Ponder this disturbing statistic:  "There are three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American.”

Considering those figures, it is unsurprising that the United States vastly outnumbers other developed countries in the  number of incarcerated individuals.We have the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world.  But that is not what is frightening - what is frightening is the considerable lack of regulation of guns due to the power of the gun lobby, spearheaded by the National Rifle Association (NRA). 

Like the vast majority of states, Colorado’s gun laws are scarily lax. Not only does Colorado prohibits gun registration, but it also lacks substantive psychological screening process for gun owners. Letting mentally disturbed individuals with potentially violently psychotic agendas possess guns is a danger to all of us. 

It is possible to respect what some interpret as their 2nd Amendment rights while acknowledging the need for restricted firearms sales. By continually stymying discussions about gun control at a national level, we seem to be incapable of acknowledging this principle. 

Our lax gun laws result in tragic circumstances such as what happened last night in Aurora as well as fuel Mexican drug cartels that commit nightmarish crimes on both sides of the border. “In Mexico, where criminals are armed to the teeth with high-powered weapons smuggled from the United States, it may come as a surprise that the country has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world. Law-abiding Mexicans who want a gun to defend themselves have no good options. Either they fight government red tape to get a legal permit, or they buy one on the black market.” Those guns often come from the United States.

We can continue to mourn those in Colorado, but we can also respect their legacy by making sure that these mass shootings stop by urging legislators to take a stand. 

Let’s stop shrugging our shoulders at the problem. Let’s do something. 

Akinyi OchiengComment