I was struck by the report from ABC News, which this morning contacted a woman identified as Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes's mother. Before learning any of the details of the tragedy, she said, "You have the right person. . . . I need to call the police ... I need to fly out to Colorado."
At this point we don't know many details about the shooter's motives or background, we can't be sure what this woman meant by her statement, and it would be too early to jump to any conclusions. It's also doesn't seem to be of much use to start the usual cycle of recriminations about gun control, the decline of Christian values, violence in popular entertainment, or a number of other favorite causes I have already heard discussed in the media today. Not that these issues aren't important and worth debating, but their connections to this shooting don't seem clear yet, and premature debate on these topics doesn't seem likely to change very many minds.
I'm hesitant to suggest anything more than reflection about the tragedy in Colorado, and sympathy for the victims. But maybe one thing we could start talking about, as long as we can do it without being divisive, is whether we are paying enough attention to potential killers in our midst. Doesn't it seem with every one of these horrific events--whether it was the Virginia Tech shooter, or the Tucson shooter, or the Norway camp shooter, or the Fort Hood shooter--that as soon as (or even before) the suspect is identified, some neighbors or classmates or family members say, "Oh yeah that guy. I'm not surprised"? It seems often the case that the suspect was already identified by mental health personnel, or by law enforcement, or by the community, as a troubled person, but those people felt unable or unwilling to do anything more to deal with those troubles.
What I'm suggesting is not intended to blame anybody for these shootings other than the perpetrators themselves. In many cases the people who knew some of these shooters did all they could, or had good reasons for not doing more. I'm also not trying to set one point of view against another. I'm suggesting a more unifying message. We're all horrified by senseless violence. We all want to reduce hate and fear. We all want to protect the innocent. We should also all agree on the need to identify and pay more attention to people who might be prone to violence. So if you are what we used to call a law-and-order conservative, you might think that alerting the cops to suspicious behavior would be a good idea. And if you are what we used to call a bleeding heart liberal, you probably think that additional counseling or social work or treatment would help bring disaffected people back from the brink. If you are an old-fashioned family values believer, you should advocate strengthening the kinds of family and community bonds that keep people from behaving violently. If you are religious, you might think that outreach by your church or synagogue or mosque could be helpful. And even if you just want to be left alone and leave others alone, you still probably want to feel safe as you go about your daily routine. All these different values and viewpoints should share a common interest--an interest in paying more attention to our neighbors and classmates and workmates and relatives, to make sure they're ok, and to make sure we take some action if they don't seem ok.
We're not going to be able to prevent all acts of violence. Some truly seem to come out of the blue. But we might be able to prevent more of them. And there is also value in having a sense of--I want to say trust--but if not trust then at least some control over our fellow human beings, instead of just feeling powerless against the possibility that anyone might act out in a destructive way.