EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS COLUMN WAS FIRST PUBLISHED HOURS AFTER THE FIRST SCHOOL-RELATED SHOOTING THIS WEEK IN AURORA, ON NOV. 15.
As if we’re stuck on an Insanity Island, we find ourselves circling back to this familiar useless place, grateful that this mass shooting didn’t kill anyone.
After the usual rounds of thoughts and prayers were issued by elected and appointed officials across the state and across the nation, Aurora and the metro area began the all-too familiar routine of trying to sort this mass shooting out. Now comes the shaking of heads, the clucking of tongues and the wagging of fingers in some pretense that we’ll actually do something — this time.
I’m not being cynical in assuring everyone that nothing will change. There will be another mass shooting where thoughts and prayers are issued and we’re thankful that no one was killed, or not as many as might have been.
Being inured to all this, rather than clairvoyant, I can promise you what will happen. Because I have seen the pattern for decades, the response from Congress to City Hall is as faithful as tomorrow’s sunrise.
Team Conservative will immediately demand, first, that those responsible be held accountable. Then they’ll press on the police to “do something” to stem the wave of violence we’re seeing now, which is not at all unlike the wave of violence we’ve seen come and go for the past 30 years or more.
This knee-jerk response has already started with Mayor Mike Coffman, who for years as a congressperson was no friend of gun control and enjoyed a pleasant 93% rating from the National Rifle Association. He and many others from Team Conservative suffer from the debunked notion that police can prevent crimes like this week’s shooting of six teenage students in the park next to Aurora Central High School, or any of the dozens of lesser shootings between friends and enemies in Aurora and the metro area.
After the Columbine massacre, Aurora’s Labor Day massacre, the brutal murder of state Sen. Rhonda Fields’ son and his fiancé, the Arapahoe High School shooting, hundreds of single shootings, the STEM High School shooting and the Aurora theater shooting massacre, a misled cadre of elected leaders look to the cops to stem the bloodshed.
It’s not that they won’t. They can’t. Police react to crime and are the chief tool in stopping any shooting rampage that’s already underway and later presenting suspects and evidence to the courts for prosecution.
That’s it. Despite the empty and inane promises made by many, many elected officials going back many, many years, neither Aurora nor Denver can patrol our way to fewer murders. We cannot harass thousands of kids who wear baggy pants or Raiders hoodies and expect the number of shootings to stop. There aren’t enough Jersey barriers in the world to keep people from shooting each other or innocent bystanders.
Literally, Aurora and Denver have been there, done that, just like dozens of other cities across the country.
It doesn’t mean police don’t have an important role in disrupting gun violence, especially among kids and gangs. Every police chief, including those in Denver and Aurora now, will tell you there’s real value in intelligence work by cops, finding out what’s up with gang turf wars and revenge episodes.
What follows this hollow push to police the community out of frequent shootings is the “tough on crime” fallacy, insisting that we lock up all the perps and never let them out of jail. What came from that mess, which started in earnest in Colorado in the early 1980s, are prisons and jails filled with people locked up at enormous public expense, hosting victims of misjustice, jailed for most of their lives for crimes that don’t warrant virtual life sentences.
It’s not a faded adage that throwing kids in jail simply turns them into real and lifelong criminals.
Despite the no, nope and oh-hell-no evidence of decades of failed tough-on-crime tactics, I promise you, there will be a push from members and candidates for congress down to school boards and city councils to round ‘em up and lock ‘em up.
Across the aisles and daises, on Team Liberal, the push will be for more programs in schools and community centers to give kids something to do other than practice shooting guns while playing hours of stunningly real and violent Xbox games. Team Blue demands that communities do more than just bang a judge’s gavel at kids and store them in juvenile “correction” facilities until they can be released to commit increasingly worse crimes.
What they won’t do is admit that schools are already so overburdened that there’s no way in hell they can take on parenting kids out of getting into gangs, guns and lifelong grief. Restorative justice is a grand and truly effective way to not only promote healing by victims and perpetrators alike, but it’s vastly expensive and time consuming to do it in a way that actually works.
What Team Blue too often won’t stand behind is either cutting other government services to pay for programs that truly can make a difference in the lives of kids before and after they become criminals, or raising taxes for the sole purpose of effectively helping kids move in a direction in their lives that’s better for them, and better for all of us.
Colorado is under the firm control of a solidly liberal state Senate, state House and governor’s office. So what’s the holdup?
Too often, Team Blue will shy away from pointing the finger at parents, too overburdened with their own lives to keep kids like Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, Aurora theater shooting gunman James Holmes and the parents of the shooters who fired on six kids in an Aurora park last week accountable.
The Sentinel and just about every newspaper in the country have run endless stories about gang members lamenting that it was the allure of gang life — cool cars, guns, power, belonging and girls — that drew them in as parents and family looked the other way.
But the most egregious reflex response will come from gun rights activists and their elected supporters. Since even before Columbine, more than 20 years ago, the senseless chestnut that “guns don’t kill people…” will weave its way into the discourse.
Gun obsessions are malevolent problems and portents of disasters for everyone who suffers from them. Rudderless kids, however, smitten with the idea of being grown-up and powerful with a handgun or an AR-15 are far, far more dangerous to themselves and everyone than a kid with a pocket knife or a nunchucks.
It doesn’t mean we’re doomed to suffer the scourge of gun violence. It means that we choose to do it. State and city lawmakers refuse to enact meaningful gun bans, buy-backs and stiff penalties, despite overwhelming public opinion behind it. State and city lawmakers refuse to fully fund effective but costly ways to keep kids from becoming perps, or prevent them from becoming even more dangerous to themselves and others. State and local leaders continue to heap unrealistic expectations on what law enforcement and the justice system can actually do to stem gun violence and other juvenile crime. Parents refuse to do the hard work of parenting.
And voters keep choosing the elected officials who perpetuate all of this. If you want different, choose different.
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