3Qs: Analyzing the Colorado shooting tragedy

[media-​​credit id=20 align=“alignright” width=“150”][/media-credit]A shooter opened fire in a crowded Col­orado movie the­ater on Friday, killing 12 people and wounding 59 others who had been watching a mid­night showing of the highly-​​anticipated new Batman movie. We asked Jack Levin, the Brud­nick Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Soci­ology and Crim­i­nology at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, to com­ment on the tragedy.

The Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colo., where a gunmen attacked moviegoers during an early-morning screening on Friday. Photo by Getty Images.

The movie theater rampage took place just 15 miles from the site of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Is there any correlation between the two?

A copycat influence is certainly more than possible. The Columbine tragedy in April 1999 has inspired many homicides, not only in the United States but also in Finland, Norway, Germany and England. To this day, the term “doing a Columbine” remains part of our vernacular. The impact of some infamous episode is particularly strong in communities located in proximity to it. Still, it is not at all clear that the perpetrator of Aurora, Colo., massacre had been influenced by the Columbine rampage. More likely (and unlike most mass killers whose psychopathology is strictly situational), he suffered from a profound mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia) that impaired his ability to think clearly and left him utterly confused.

Police officials have said that the suspected gunman’s apartment was heavily booby-trapped with trip wires connecting incendiary and chemical devices. Given that the suspect surrendered after being confronted by police and reportedly admitted to setting the booby traps, why would he go through the trouble of rigging his apartment?

The killer’s deadly attack lasted no more than one minute. Booby-trapping his apartment with explosives may have been meant to keep the “fun” going for a longer period of time. It also indicates just how confused the killer was. On the one hand, he rigged the apartment with explosives, so as to kill the police officers who arrived. On the other hand, he informed the police before they attempted to enter.

Mass shootings tend to spark arguments from both gun control advocates and gun rights groups. What tangible impact would carry permits or tighter restrictions on gun purchasing have on mass murder?

We need to get the small caliber handguns out of the reach of gang members and other young people who will shoot to kill in response to any challenge to their pride or dignity. The typical homicide is single-victim; there are some 15,000 annually. This is where we should be placing our efforts to establish strict gun control. Mass killers who target anything that moves in a public setting are unlikely to be deterred. They usually have no criminal record, and are able to purchase a firearm legally. Guns are only a part of the problem. Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, taking the lives of 168 men, women, and children. Moreover, the residents of countries like Canada and Switzerland have access to high-powered rifles, but they don’t choose to use them on other human beings. These countries have extraordinarily low rates of homicide. They also experience few public executions perpetrated by troubled murderers.

1 comment

  1. You ask, “.…why would he go through the trouble of rig­ging his apart­ment with deadly traps?“
    The main pur­pose of the booby traps was to create a dis­trac­tion, drawing police away from the the­ater and giving him more time to kill people at the the­ater. He left blaring music. The explo­sives should have been trig­gered much ear­lier. Once he was cap­tured the booby traps no longer served that pur­pose. Appar­ently killing people indi­rectly with explo­sives was not his main objective.

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