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James Holmes doesn’t look like he’s all there.

There’s the Crayola orange hair. The dazed look. The seeming inability to adapt his brilliance in the classroom to the world outside of it; a world of dating, friends and one with no clear rules.

Yet it’ll be awhile before anyone will really know whether it was craziness or calculated evil that led Holmes, a 24-year-old neuroscience PhD candidate, to spend months plotting the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater last week; one in which 12 people were killed and 58 were wounded.

It’ll be awhile before anyone will know what possessed Holmes to purchase more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet, to buy a Glock, a pistol and an assault rifle, protective gear, a gas mask, gas canisters, grenades and other instruments and apparatus designed to foment death and destruction.

But know this.

Whatever demons that drove Holmes to commit mass murder were fed by opportunity. The opportunity was fed the gun lobby, which sees to it that in Colorado, there is no ban on assault weapons or high capacity clips, no gun registration, no gun licensing and no background checks for gun sales.

On top of that, Holmes’ Internet purchases raised no red flags.

Yet the opportunity for someone like Holmes to build an arsenal is also fed by something more sinister: the gun lobby’s ability to foment paranoia among ordinary Americans under the cover of the Second Amendment.

Because of that, guns have gone far beyond simply being instruments of protection or for hunting or sport. They’ve become fetishized as symbols of American freedom; as the thing that separates real Americans from fake ones.  

In Texas, for example, gun licenses can be used as voter identification, but student identification cards cannot. I guess in the Lone Star state, real Americans go to the gun range instead of college.


On top of that, scores of people, upset over the election of President Obama and intent on not seeing the first black president as one of them, continue to purchase firearms in record numbers.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, last year sales of firearms were projected to hit 15 million for the first time ever, and tactical rifles were mostly in demand. Gun shop owners have bragged that Obama’s election has been good for sales.

And many people who are arming up are doing so out of paranoia; they fear that Obama, if re-elected, will limit their right to buy guns.

That’s because in the minds of many of them, the president isn’t a real American, but a socialist-in-waiting.

Fear drives them more than American ideals. So they continue to conflate the unrestricted ability to acquire assault rifles and instruments geared to maiming and killing, to freedom.

So it would only follow that Holmes, and before him Jared Lee Loughner, who shot 18 people in Tuscon, Ariz., last year and killed six, would exploit those lax gun laws, laws undergirded by fear and misguided notions of freedom, to arm up.

Thing is they, not unlike the killers who have been leaving a trail of blood in Chicago lately, and in inner-cities everywhere, used that freedom to simply murder people. Making a stand for the Second Amendment, I’m sure, was the furthest thing from their minds.

Again, we don’t know whether it was meanness or insanity that drove Holmes to shoot up a theater full of people. What we do know, however, is that his ability to amass an arsenal was abetted by an atmosphere in which protecting anyone’s right to acquire one is seen as the American thing to do.

Until that changes, expect to keep reading about more James Holmeses. And to keep burying more people.


Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her on Twitter at @tonyaajw.



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One thought on “False Symbols of Freedom

  1. navi12 on said:

    It will be a while before anyone will know whether Holmes is crazy or downright evil. Depends on how many people are going to be permitted to get into his head by Holmes himself. At this point he is still the mystery person who took acting out to the extreme and killed some folks.

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