Family members of the victims of the Century 16 theater shooting remember their loved ones during a vigil in Aurora, Colo. Sunday, July 22, 2012. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, AAron Ontiveroz, Pool)

Not long ago, I visited our office in Denver to meet with colleagues, and while I was out there, one of them showed me his private gun collection. I dig guns in a big way, and getting to hold a SPAS-12 or an AR-15 was a hoot. It would have been nicer had I gotten some time on a range with them, but that’s for another visit, perhaps. I would like to own guns myself, but my wife would rather we not keep them in the house, so I respect her wishes. Plus, both she and I are close to getting our black belts, and we own two large dogs, so we feel fairly safe in our home as it is.

Of course, nobody is ever as safe as they think they are, something made plain by the recent mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. It is not surprising that such a wrenching tragedy would restart a heated national debate over gun control, even if doing so kicks things off in the wrong direction and with the left foot. Likewise, I suppose it is not surprising that a much smaller, but no less heated discussion has taken place over whether or not it is appropriate to bring kids as young as six months old to the midnight viewing of a PG-13 comic book movie. (That one of the victims was a six-year-old girl is something that we might discuss with a little more sympathy than we seem to be offering at the moment.) As with the gun control debate, there is a discussion to be had over when and how people make their inevitable parenting missteps. But for a debate to be constructive, it needs to be done at the proper place and time, and with the proper intent. And we just don’t have that here.

What we do have is an incident where a single psychopath wounded some 58 people and killed 12, most of whom were under the age of 30, the youngest of whom was only six years old and had just learned how to swim. One victim had recently survived another shooting incident in Canada and blogged about how precious and fleeting life is. One victim had done a tour in Iraq only to catch a bullet at home. One victim died successfully shielding his girlfriend from harm.

We argue amongst ourselves in the wake of such an event, nominally, so we might prevent history from repeating itself, or so we might minimize the harm when it does. But we also argue amongst ourselves because we search for a reason amid loss and tragedy. Finding none, we must direct our frustration somewhere, and so we direct it at each other precisely when we need to be doing otherwise.

An incident like Aurora reminds us of the fragility of life not by tapping us on the shoulder, but by punching us in the face, and so we respond in kind, instead of with kindness. Near or far from Aurora, we’re all in this together, people. Go give somebody you know a hug. Go give somebody you don’t know a handshake. And let’s not forget why and how we are sometimes pushed together as a people at times not of our choosing.

 

Other stories by Bill Coffin:

5 Things I Learned from the Supreme Court Ruling

Start Your Engines

So Much for Oversight