“We’ve always loved the name Aurora. It means dawn. It’s Latin,” the New York Sun notes in an elegant editorial. Aurora, of course, is the name of the town where the largest mass murder in the nation’s history took place. It is also, the Sun recalls, the name of the Philadelphia newspaper that flourished from 1794 until 1824. The Alien and Sedition Acts, that early and (fortunately) short-lived attempt to suppress our First Amendment right to free speech, were passed to hush the Aurora.
This ties in neatly with some of the talk that the Aurora killings mean we must abridge our freedom, including those freedoms guaranteed by the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution:
Details of this crime were still coming over the wires when statements and editorials started calling for the weakening of the Bill of Rights. Some want to impose new ratings codes, or worse, to deal with Hollywood’s penchant for violence and gore. Others are blaming the violence on the separation of church and state that has permitted the rise of a strong streak of secularism in America. Still others are reacting to the killings at Aurora with calls to weaken the Second Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms. Mayor Bloomberg and the Times jumped right in on this. The Daily News actually asserted that, because President Obama and Governor Romney have shown some deference to the Second Amendment, they were standing at the killer’s side “as he sprayed bullets and buckshot into a crowded movie theater.”
We would be surprised if that is how the people of Aurora, Colorado, see the President and Governor Romney, even at this moment of unimaginable grief. It was the same way at Tucson. The American people have a tendency to maintain their senses — and they are attached to their rights. They know that the way one shows light in painting, and the other arts, is to show darkness next to it. So they understand the role of the Joker. They understand the role of violence in film, as they do of violence and the grotesque in literature. There is nothing in Batman more gruesome than in Dante. Curbing Hollywood is no way to honor the dead in Colorado. And curbing the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans is no way to remember them, either.
So many things, including the political campaigns, grind to a halt in the face of a horror such as the murders in Colorado. This is not surprising and, indeed, this reaction is, in the language of Thomas Cranmer, meet and right. Certainly the president must say something and say it as well as he can at a time like this. But I can’t help being dismayed that the president has been described (I think in the Washington Post but am not sure where I saw this) as “consoler-in-chief.” This is passive and mawkish.
The country has gotten so it falls into some sort of ritual when these killings take place. Mona Charen noted this last week. The calls for gun control and healing are made simultaneously. I am not sure that the nation is served by the personal content of some of our national mourning. Do we really need POTUS to tell us that life is “fragile” or that his daughters go to movies, too (but with more security than the rest of us)? John Donne once wrote that “no man is an island.” In times of national mourning, I can’t help but wish that we were a bit more like separate islands, a little more self-contained and stoic. The shooters must know that they will trigger this kind of outpouring. One wonders if that prospect isn’t part of what inspires them.
Peter Wehner had a good piece on the Commentary blog almost immediately after the killings. It was about the tendency to politicize these horrific events:
A modest and civilized society would give room to the families and friends of the dead to begin to process their shattering losses. It would give room to the police to do their work and gather evidence. It would leave room for citizens of this nation to reflect with soberness and seriousness on what has happened; to participate, if only for a brief time, in a national mourning of sorts. And it might even resist the impulse to leverage a massacre into a political culture war. It would be helpful if members of the press and politicians understood this, and acted in a way that showed some measure of decency and compassion.
While I deplore the politicization of Aurora, I want to say that I agree with my colleague Karin Agness that there were moments of genuine heroism that night. Three men sacrificed their lives to protect women. As Karin Agness points out on Inkwell, these were incidents of bravery that indeed qualify as chivalry.
Karin compares this behavior to that of the men who shoved past women and children on the sinking Costa Concordia to preserve their own sorry lives. These men in the movie theatre in Aurora reacted differently—and so we are able to see something intrinsically decent in the horror of it all.