A Few Thoughts on the Shooting in Aurora

My wife dashed into the bedroom this morning and woke me up: “There was a shooting in Aurora, Colorado.” Not again. Aurora is just a few miles northeast of Littleton, the site of the Columbine shootings. We walked into the living room and sat on the couch, watching the reports on the Today show, reading the news on CNN and the Denver Post on our phones, numb. I opened up Facebook to check on the welfare of friends — we lived in Colorado for the better part of a decade — but everyone out there was still asleep. They all seem to be okay, thankfully, but my sympathy goes out to all the victims, friends, and family members impacted by the Aurora shootings.

Every time a shooting like this happens — and they happen way too often — the national conversation quickly turns to guns. Their availability, their usage, and laws surrounding their manufacture and purchase. According to early reports, the alleged shooter had three guns on him, including an “AK-type” gun, and a fourth in his car.

That national conversation — or, rather, screaming match — is going to happen again. And unfortunately, the radicals on both sides suck the oxygen out of the room. Some knee-jerk anti-gun groups are going to argue that America we should roll back gun ownership entirely. Knee-jerk pro-gun groups are going to argue that if only a few audience members had been armed, they could have stopped this tragedy. (They’ll make this argument despite the fact that a man who helped stop the Tucson, Ariz., shooting involving Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords nearly shot the wrong guy.)

Those groups are never going to agree. Their perspectives are too different. But after this settles down, it’s time to try to find some middle ground.

Listen, I have no problems with the Second Amendment or gun ownership. I was raised around guns and started hunting at 12 years old. I haven’t been hunting in a few years, but not because I have an objection to hunting or guns, but because I don’t really like waking up at 4 a.m. to sit in the freezing forest, waiting for a deer to come along. At the end of the day, guns, like cars, are just tools — albeit extremely dangerous ones. If you want to have a shotgun or rifle for hunting or target-shooting, or a handgun for self-defense, that’s fine by me. I fully support your right to do so.

But if, indeed, the killer was carrying an “AK-type” gun — and frankly, even if he weren’t — it’s still time to consider a new version of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004. It was an admittedly imperfect law, but it made obtaining semiautomatic versions of some so-called “assault weapons” much more difficult.

I’ve never been around an AK-47, but I have handled an AR-15, which is the civilian, semiautomatic version of the military’s M16. A family member of mine recently bought one, and while I was visiting not too long ago, he pulled it out of his gun safe and handed it to me. Trust me: It’s awesome. It makes you feel like a soldier. It makes you feel brave. It makes you feel invincible. I imagine it’d be incredibly fun to go to a shooting range and light up a target. (Which indeed, I hope to do so soon.)

But it’s also clear that, unlike a shotgun or a hunting rifle, the AR-15 is designed for one purpose: Killing people. Lots of people. It’s so far beyond the level of a handgun — which, let’s be realistic, is for killing people in self-defense — that it’s hard to imagine. It’s like comparing a tank to a car. But as much fun as having a tank would be, we’re not all driving around tanks. Because they’re too damn dangerous, and there are too many crazy people out there. And as long as we’re handing out weapons easily capable of killing lots of people very quickly, we’re going to keep having tragic incidents like this. That needs to stop.