Observations of a Tragedy


Plenty has been written and discussed regarding the Colorado movie theater killings last week, so I won’t go into too much of it here, except to point out a couple of reactions to the massacre that I found odd. The first is the reactions of Obama and Romney. After publicly expressing their shock and then their sympathies to the victims and their families, which certainly was the right thing to do, they both suspended their presidential campaign activities for the day, with Romney going so far as to pull his advertising. This reaction to a mass murder incident in a movie house seems strange to me, almost as if campaigning for president and running TV ads was somehow disrespectful.

Then there was the reaction from Warner Bros., the studio that made The Dark Knight Rises, the picture that was playing in the theater. They announced that they were considering pulling the picture out of circulation. In the end they didn’t go through with it, but the fact that they even considered yanking it is a stupid overreaction to something that was not their fault.

Yes, the killer called himself “The Joker” and it appears that in some demented way he identified himself with the villain in the movie, but the movie didn’t cause the killer to do what he did. Pulling the picture would only disappoint millions of normal fans who want to see it. In all likelihood, the defective human being who shot up the place would have found another reason to commit his mayhem even if the film had never been made. Or if movies had never been invented at all. The guy’s brain is defective.

What I found the oddest reaction of all was the decision by all the major studios to join Warner Bros. in withholding their box-office numbers for the week-end. Sony, Fox, Disney, Paramount, Universal, and Lionsgate all announced that they would go along with Warner’s and not report their earnings on any of their pictures until Monday morning.

What difference does that make? You mean if they report earnings on Sunday it shows disrespect for the victims, but on Monday it’s OK? And what do the other studios’ movie receipts have to do with this? What good does not reporting box-office earnings for two days do? And who cares? Want to show how contrite you are? No TV advertising for a year. Or why not just go all the way and suspend all film production at every studio for a year or two?

The other reactions to this have been politically self-serving and predictable. Within hours of the killings Brian Ross of ABC News was on the air with George Stephanopoulos blaming the Tea Party (which they soon retracted when it turned out to be untrue). Mayor Bloomberg ofNew Yorkdemanded that Obama and Romney do something about this sort of thing. And the usual suspects were out on all the talk shows demanding tighter gun control and more laws.

Here’s the thing, this isn’t about negative presidential campaigning, or violent movies, or superhero comic books, or too many guns, or talk radio, or anything else except a demented individual who snapped and exploded. The uncomfortable truth is we have a lot of defective people walking the streets and although not every one of them will commit mass murder, some will inevitably crack and become dangerous.

I agree with syndicated columnist, attorney, and psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer, who says that the real problem here is that over the years our mental health laws have become too lax. People who three or four decades ago would have been institutionalized are today free and on their own without any medical support whatsoever. Defective people, time bombs who might go off anywhere, anytime.

Family and friends of these defective people are the only hope of stopping them before they commit serious actions on themselves or others. People who are close to the defectives need to watch them and act proactively to prevent the sort of disaster that took place inColorado. We need to explore what can be done to get people such as these away from society and into secured institutions where they will not be a danger to anyone. If they can be treated, fine, medicate them but keep them locked away so that innocent citizens will not be hurt.

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