The lights dimmed.
Alex Sullivan couldn’t have imagined a better way to celebrate his 27th birthday than a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Before Friday, the idea you could walk into a movie theater and never come out seemed ridiculous.
This became Alex’s reality at 12:38 a.m., as James Holmes opened fire on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
The mass shooting ended the lives of Alex and 11 other theatergoers.
Gas canisters thrown into the aisles released smoke into the crowded theater. Some members of the audience were entertained by what they thought was part of the presentation. That changed as the air was riven with bullets.
Per usual, the media has responded to the shocking event with a blame game, trying to explain something incomprehensible.
The shooting was reminiscent of scenes of random violence in the Dark Knight films, reigniting the debate about violence on film and violence in reality.
However, this debate is misguided. There is no narrow avenue of accountability. Though Holmes referred to himself as The Joker to police, the shooting is neither contingent on nor would have been prevented by the abolition of violence from film.
The attack has also brought the return of the gun control debate to the forefront of American political dialogue.
It is futile to ruminate on the right to bear arms, as for better or worse it is enshrined in our Constitution, but perhaps it is time to have a discussion about the ability to order mass quantities of ammunition online. Holmes legally purchased 6,000 rounds and other weaponry through unregulated websites.
Holmes was able to buy the ammo over the Internet without a background check, let alone an inquiry into the purchaser’s mental health.
Accordingly, the issue of psychological treatment and care for the mentally ill is has become more salient to dominant culture.
American mass media paused to reflect on this question in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting but failed to motivate any real change.
The challenge in the coming months will be to move beyond conversation and to implement measures that prevent similar acts of violence.
In the immediate future, the most appropriate response to the tragedy is the refusal to be manipulated by the enigmatic actions of a disturbed individual.
Americans must continue to regard the movie theater for what it is: an escape from the mundane and difficult trials of daily life.
In the coming weeks, we must focus on the lessons the victims can teach us, rather than attempt to understand the random act of violence.
Questions surrounding Holmes’ actions might only reward his desire for attention. Allow the victims to rule the night, not the perpetrator. Allow the experience of moviegoing to emerge unscathed by the tragic shooting.
Remember Jessica Ghawi, the 25-year-old aspiring journalist who narrowly escaped a mass shooting in a Toronto mall on a June Saturday, but didn’t survive Aurora.
She wrote on her blog after the shooting, “I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.”
Let Jessica, Alex and the 10 other victims define this night. Let’s preserve their memory by thinking how we can mitigate the risk of this kind of tragedy.
We can do so without suing movie studios or hiding at home. Let’s not lose the magic of cinema to fear.