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The Times
  • Editorial: Locked, loaded in America

  • Lost in all the chaos and gun smoke over the theater shooting in Colorado was the first anniversary of an even more horrific event, if one can imagine such a thing - the July 22, 2011 bombing of government buildings in Oslo, Norway, and the systematic slaughter of teens at a nearby youth camp that ultimately left a breathtaking 77 people dead, victims of another twisted sociopath.

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  • Lost in all the chaos and gun smoke over the theater shooting in Colorado was the first anniversary of an even more horrific event, if one can imagine such a thing - the July 22, 2011 bombing of government buildings in Oslo, Norway, and the systematic slaughter of teens at a nearby youth camp that ultimately left a breathtaking 77 people dead, victims of another twisted sociopath.
    "The bomb and the gunshots were meant to change Norway," Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday. "The Norwegian people answered by embracing our values. The perpetrator lost. The people won."
    Perhaps that's the difference between Norway and the United States. There a monstrous act brought people together against, in that case, political extremism. Here certain tragedies tend not to unite but to divide, as already the Aurora, Colo. massacre that took a dozen lives and wounded 58 others seems to be doing on this side of the ocean.
    Nothing splits Americans or magnifies the wide cultural fissures that exist - red state and blue state, rural and urban, Republican and Democrat - quite like the issue of guns. The reactions to this crime couldn't be any more polar opposite, between those who recoiled at the bloodshed and the idea that the young suspect could get his hands so easily on the likes of an AR-15 assault rifle - the civilian version of the military's M-16, purchased at a local sporting goods store - and those who rushed out immediately to fortify their own arsenals, with sales of firearms jumping dramatically in Colorado and elsewhere in the ensuing days.
    Two motivations were propelling the buying stampede. In the words of one gun shop owner, "What they're saying is: They want to have a chance. They want to have the ability to protect themselves and their families if they are in a situation like what happened in the movie theater." Second, they want to get out ahead of any potential gun control efforts coming from the government, which may not be the most rational reaction given the reality that politicians obsessed with their job security in an election year are steering plenty clear of this issue.
    And in the middle are arguably the vast majority of Americans who sit back and watch the back-and-forth, who believe in the Second Amendment right to own a gun but not any gun; who appreciate that you're not going to cure all mental illness but that the nation ought not to make it easy for schizophrenics or others with some ax to grind to get their hands on military-grade weaponry that can take out dozens in the span of minutes; who suggest that if someone suddenly buys thousands of rounds of ammo online that ought to be raising red flags all over the place and prompting attention or perhaps even a visit from law enforcement; who wonder why retailers even sell these things, unpersuaded by the explanation, "because they can." Unfortunately, they're largely silent, cowed by the screaming on the fringes.
    Page 2 of 2 - Those folks in center field have nothing against self-protection but are wary of everybody being armed in a dark theater occupied by families and children. They might not object to a handgun, just in case, but they find no reason why anyone would ever need an AK anything, unless the very point is to hunt humans.
    Everyone is consumed by emotion on these issues, but the moderates here don't ignore the facts, which include the reality that with record gun ownership in this country over the last few years, violent crime - committed by individuals who are not intent on rampage - is notably down. Many of those who would oppose any and all gun ownership would never concede that apparent deterrent effect. But neither would those who worship at the altar of the gun, whose very identity is tied up in their NRA membership, ever acknowledge that maybe, just maybe these body counts are boosted when the lunatic pulling the trigger is doing so with a weapon that should only be seen in a war zone. A suburban cineplex should never be a war zone.
    From these two camps we get the same old mindless recitation of talking points. You'd think they'd be bored by them. You'd also think that vast middle would be able to get a word in edgewise. Welcome to America, where there's no such luck.
    Which is why we can't even have this conversation, at the most important time to be having this conversation.
    Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.
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