Rodricks: Aurora and the new insanity

What happens now — if it hasn't already — is that we adapt to another form of insanity. We add movie theaters to the list of places where random violence might erupt. Some of us look for online tutorials in how to survive a mass shooting at the cinema. Others, taking no chances, get guns and permits to carry them.

"No place is safe," I heard a retired Marine say the other day. There are too many guns — almost one for every American by now — and too many people with untreated mental illness. The Marine suggested constant vigilance outside the home: Watch the people around you, the clothes they wear, the position and movement of their hands. Keep an eye open for the possibility of the heavily-armed mass killer in all public places: on a campus, or in a cafeteria or supermarket parking lot, and now the movie theater.


That's the message from Aurora, echoing Blacksburg and Tucson and Littleton, and dozens of other places, less infamous, where disturbed men with guns randomly killed smaller numbers of adults and children.

Risk analysts tell us the Marine is being more paranoid than logical. The odds of being in a mass shooting in the United States are tiny compared to being in a car accident or house fire. But it's the terrorizing nature of the mass shooting — and the fear that we could die in one — that reverberates in the most logical of minds.


How many people, since Friday's massacre in Colorado, have decided to spend more time at home? Let's see how Netflix and Red Box sales look in the next month. How many people will think twice about going to crowded places, especially venues that might attract young men from the fringes: concerts, music festivals, clubs? How many more public places will have metal detectors? And, most disturbing of all: How many more Americans are going to purchase guns and carry them?

Conservatives and gun lovers enjoy knocking Michael Moore, the filmmaker whose "Bowling For Columbine" made a direct connection between the nation's boogeyman culture and its love of the gun. Fear, rational or irrational, drives gun sales, Moore noted in his film about the Columbine killings and the nation's grotesque obsession with firearms. We have, Moore and others have argued, a gun culture attached to a fear culture, all ramped up since9/11.

Gun-ownership zealots, meanwhile, prefer a different connection. They believe crime rates have declined across the country because more people are carrying guns — a ridiculous claim with no credible evidence of correlation — and they believe that some of our nation's mass killings would not have been so bad had more people been armed to take down the gunman, including the one in the Aurora Cineplex.

Passionate gun owners support the National Rifle Association, which has won all of its important political battles for the wide distribution of firearms, including assault rifles. But their most important ally in the march toward liberalization is the Supreme Court.

In 2008, the court established an individual's constitutional right to have a gun at home, striking down the strict handgun ban in the federal District of Columbia. In 2010, the court extended its findings to Chicago and the few remaining local governments that have tried to ban handguns. "A great moment in American history," Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, called the latter ruling.

Next up: Carry permits. Given a ruling in a federal court in Baltimore in March, it seems likely that any state restrictions on the right to carry weapons eventually will go away, too.

U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg ruled unconstitutional Maryland's "may issue" policy for gun permits, which left the decision about issuing such licenses to the discretion of the State Police. Legg's ruling effectively turned Maryland into a "shall issue" state, meaning one that automatically issues a carry permit if the applicant meets the state's criteria, with no discretion by police. Most states are "shall issue" states. Four states have no restrictions. Maryland was one of only nine states with discretionary "may issue" policies.

So, you can see the trend: The Supreme Court did away with gun bans, and the next area of challenge likely will be any restriction on the right to carry them in any state. If you have the right to bear arms, the argument goes, you have the right to bear them anywhere; you shouldn't need the government's — read that, the police's — permission to do so.


That's why we should expect more guns among us. As more random acts of gun violence occur, more gun owners will want to carry their weapons, perhaps even to movie theaters. It's part of the new insanity.

Responding on my Facebook page to the suggestion that the NRA shares moral responsibility for what happened at the Aurora Cineplex, a guy named Jeff Stokes wrote: "The moral responsibility I feel is guilt for not being there with my carry permit so I could have done something about it."