By Jeff Knox and Chris Knox
The images are all too familiar – police tape around blood-spattered pavement, horror-struck onlookers, friends of victims bent over in grief, ambulances lined up like cabs at an airport. Atrocities like the one that took at least a dozen lives and left scores more injured in Aurora, Colo., last week are unfathomable. As a community and a nation we grieve with the families and friends of the dead and wounded and do our best to understand their pain. It is our empathy and realization that what befalls others could be visited upon us that defines our humanity and guides our actions. As we discuss what happened in Aurora, we must remember that we're talking about real people, not empty statistics or fictional characters in a movie. They loved and were loved, and the horror of what happened to them cannot be overstated. We all should take a moment to put ourselves in the shoes of the survivors and the families of the victims and imagine the pain we would go through if this happened to our loved ones. We should also resolve to maintain civility and respect as we engage in the debates that are already flowing from this terrible crime.
Hard on the heels of condolences, finger pointing and calls to "do something" will come the pleas for money. In fact, those pleas began barely 12 hours after the most recent attack took place. The Brady Campaign for the Prevention of Gun Violence – which focuses solely on restricting guns rather than preventing violence – skipped over the formalities and went almost immediately to using the atrocity as a fundraiser. Brady President Dan Gross barely even bothered to acknowledge the tragedy of the situation when he said; "When I heard the news this morning, first I felt tremendous sadness for the victims' families. But then I felt enormous anger. Anger because once again America's horrendous gun laws have robbed Americans of our basic freedom – the right to live in safety."
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Gross then encouraged readers to sign an online petition and to urge their friends to also sign the petition. The "petition" calls for candidates to pledge to keep guns away from criminals, crazy people, wife-beaters and terrorists, but it doesn't explain how they plan to accomplish those worthy goals. It doesn't matter, though, because the petition itself is primarily a means of collecting information from potential donors, and of course the "DONATE" link was prominent on the email. Late Saturday night Gross sent out another email calling on those who received it – no doubt including many who had just responded to his petition plea – to send in a "special gift" to help him "stop the gun madness."
We've seen this bit. It's an old formula that our father, Neal Knox, called "Dancing in the blood of the victims."
The next step is for Gross to trot out a survivor or family member of a victim – of this or some other high-profile atrocity – to denounce gun rights and proclaim that financial support for the Brady Bunch is the only way to return the nation to sanity. Never mind that their "common sense" (sic) proposals – banning cosmetic features of some guns, denying any sort of gun-carry rights, ratcheting up the obstacles to prevent a law-abiding citizen from owning or using any gun – would have no effect on the incident at hand. It's always just "a good first step."
That will probably be followed by a lawsuit against the gun dealer, the ammunition maker, or the manufacturer of the drum magazine the attacker used (which apparently malfunctioned), and some of the survivors or victims' family members testifying before a committee of Congress about changing a law that would not have made any difference in this particular case. Gross and the Brady Bunch will use all of that as the core of their public fundraising effort for the next couple of years. Even so, the majority of the group's funding will come from grants from the Joyce Foundation and major contributions from a few, wealthy, gun-control zealots.
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On the other side of the coin, pro-gun groups will express their condolences to the families for their pain and loss and then denounce the Brady Bunch and anti-rights leaders for shamelessly using such a tragedy for political and financial gain. They will follow these denunciations with a reminder that they are going to need to meet the Brady attack head on, and that's going to cost a lot of money. That's a fact.
In the end, both sides of the issue will be holding up this heinous crime as proof of their position and using it to sway politicians and to motivate donors. For the most part, both sides will talk in vague generalities, avoiding specifics, and both will make a lot of money off of the pain and suffering of others.
Criticizing political groups for using tragedies to further their cause and fill their coffers is like criticizing a cat for chasing mice – it's just in their nature. What we can justly criticize is when any of these groups, in their own self-righteous fervor, seem to celebrate the windfall such a tragedy represents to them. In general, the pro-rights groups approach these cases with respect and deference. The NRA's 1999 convention was in Denver only a few weeks after the Columbine horror. That convention was a much-muted affair. Their corporate charter legally bound them to hold the official meetings; nonetheless, anti-rights organizations and politicians, and their friends in the media, roundly criticized the NRA for not canceling all events. The pro-rights side of the argument understands that it needs to tread lightly when it comes to conducting any sort of business, especially fundraising, following a tragedy.
On the other hand, the anti-gun side seems immune from criticism for fundraising directly in the wake of a horrific event. Gun-control groups pounce on these tragedies with a smug righteousness bordering on glee as they blame guns, the gun lobby and all gun owners in general for enabling the crime. Meanwhile, their friends in the dominant media remain unwilling to acknowledge the fact that none of the bans, registration schemes, magazine limitations, or bans of cosmetic features would make a dime's worth of difference in the criminal violence at hand. In fact, some of the worst mass murders in U.S. history didn't involve guns at all. In 1997, an angry drunk killed 87 people at the Happy Land Social Club. His weapons were a few ounces of gasoline and two matches.
Madness is a sad fact of life – one that seems common in an ever-faster-moving world. As crime in general and violent crime in particular continue to decline toward record lows in most areas of the U.S., random acts of multiple murder remain at a steady pace or may be increasing – authorities disagree, but in terms of real numbers, such events remain thankfully rare. It's not unusual for one shooting to spark copycats seeking the same sort of notoriety lavished on a previous atrocity. Nonetheless, it is ultimately the criminal, not his tools, that makes the real difference.
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One thing some sociologists have suggested that might help is to deny the craven murderers the notoriety they seek by avoiding publishing their pictures or repeating their names. That's why you will never see a likeness of the cowards or a name reference to them in any of our writing or on any of our websites. The name is out there, but we won't help make it a household word. We also insist on referring to the pathetic losers in terms that accurately reflect their character and their actions. It's a small measure, but we think it matters, and we'd like to see broader media adopt similar policies. We think that would be a good first step.