Guest Columns

HUDSON: OBSERVING AURORA FROM A DISTANCE

Surely we can devote more effort to scanning for the whack jobs among us

Contributing Columnist

It’s always a surreal experience when you are traveling far from home, and something bizarre or terrifying is reported to have occurred there in your absence. I learned twenty years ago that when the President of your Homeowner’s Association tracks you down in Seattle, it isn’t to deliver good news. A freak hailstorm had smashed all the windows along the north wall of my fourth floor condo in North Denver. My daughter was staying with me that summer and shouldered the responsibility of having them boarded up until I could return. The only good news was that, while other homeowners were cleaning up their damage, I was speaking to my insurance agent and ordering replacements before the entire Denver market ran out of glass.

I was in San Diego the weekend after the Aurora theater shootings for a business trip. As I watched the Sunday morning news shows, I found Mayor Steve Hogan and Governor John Hickenlooper being interviewed. Both are decent men and dedicated public servants, who evidenced the strain of coping with several sleepless nights and the consequences of an incomprehensible tragedy. For the most part, they knew little more than their interviewers about the ‘who, what and why’ of this massacre. They appeared particularly flummoxed by the sheer idiocy and inanity of the questions thrown their way.

The fact that the Governor called out his Cabinet members to act as ombudsmen for the families of victims at the hospitals treating the wounded was a thoughtful and, I’m sure, deeply appreciated gesture. There is nothing more distressing than quarreling with bureaucracy at a time of personal bereavement. The eventual waiving of most of the medical and emergency costs for the injured and their families inspires confidence that Colorado remains a caring community. None of this, however, prevented my hosts from inquiring about, “…why so many of these incidents seem to occur in Colorado?”

That isn’t true, of course, but the prominence of Columbine, and now, the sheer scale of the Aurora theater massacre can leave such an impression. In fact, a shooting that results in more than five deaths occurs about every other week, year around, in the United States. That pattern has remained consistent over the past thirty years. We’ve grown surprisingly numb to their frequency, much like we have of reports of deadly tornadoes each spring and summer. As I write this column, the news is reporting the story of multiple killings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. These were not, nor were the murders committed by James Holmes, natural ‘acts of God.’ Rather, they are the manifestation of evil brewing in the depths of demented minds.

I had hoped that the San Diego newspaper might shed some light on the motives of the Aurora killer, but it offered few insights. The Lutheran church, where his family worshipped, held a prayer service for his victims. Some who knew Holmes as a brilliant student and avid snowboarder observed that he was “…somewhat of a loner. A bit odd, but not dangerous.” Ultimately, these explosions of violence and anger are inherently inexplicable. The upscale Rancho Peñasquitos neighborhood and the modern Westview High School he attended appear to offer the best of everything available as part and parcel of the American dream. Yet, his parents and sister will now live out the remainder of their lives in the shadows cast by his madness.

Holmes will soon be forgotten, but not his slaughter. It is easy to say that nothing could have been done to prevent this tragedy. But, that is not entirely true. We have allowed our mental health alarm systems to rust shut. An over-reliance on medications and a misplaced emphasis on personal freedom, which too often equates depravity with eccentricity, have made it far easier for insanity to slip past our civic sentinels. If we can devote significant police resources to chasing down child pornographers on the Internet, and that is a good thing, surely we can devote more effort to scanning for the whack jobs among us. I, for one, am more than willing as to risk the occasional lawsuit protesting a “psychiatric hold.” As a taxpayer, that’s a small price to pay for a safer community.

Miller Hudson is a columnist for The Colorado Statesman. He has served in the Colorado General Assembly, headed up an employees trade organization and currently consults in the area of public affairs and policy.