The dark debate rises

According to columnists in the New York Times and the Washington Post, it is not possible to discuss gun control in the US, not even after a spree killing such as the one in Aurora, Colorado. Quite how it is possible to get a column in such prominent media outlets discussing something that it isn’t possible to discuss, I am not sure. I wonder if they mean that it is possible to debate the subject, but their side is losing the debate. Well, Common Sense is braver than either the New York Times or the Washington Post, so we will have the debate that they are to scared to.

Certainly the Aurora killings tell us much about the prevalence of guns in American society. To remind you of the sequence of events it was this: two cars were involved in a chase. The driver of one car pulled into a church car park and warned everyone to take cover. A woman left the church and was shot by the driver. An off-duty police officer then shot the gunman dead. The killing spree was short, with just one victim, plus the death of the perpetrator.

That was probably not the Aurora killings of which you were thinking, though these deaths were mere months ago at the end of April. News of them did not, at the time, reach your columnist in the Britain, and quite probably did not reach Plattsburgh either. For a killing spree to make international or even national news, larger numbers need to be involved. And that number of killings requires something which was present in the movie theater but not at the nearby church: gun control.

The movie theater, like Virginia Tech, had a no weapons policy. It did not, of course, have a complete absence of weapons. The man who arrived at the theater having presumably already decided to kill people was not, it seems, deterred by the presence of a sign saying that weapons are not allowed. Apparently he was not someone who always obeys the rules. Hundreds of people, one of them on a killing spree, and he the only person armed is the stuff of international headlines.

Ahhah, some of you are thinking: I don’t want a situation in which only the killer is armed. I want a situation in which no-one is armed. That would be safer. That’s debatable. Libertarian feminist groups in particular object to the idea of no-one being armed, as it leaves larger, stronger, people in positions of dominance. The proposition may be debatable, but the debate is pointless. Guns cannot be disinvented. If laws could be enforced with perfect reliability the debate would not arise, since murder is also illegal.

If a few of the movie viewers had been armed, the spree would have been one or two people, not a dozen lives lost and dozens more people injured.

But with more than one gun firing, could that have made the situation worse? Could innocent people have been caught in the crossfire? The gunman may have killed fewer, but perhaps citizens would have accidentally killed a few. It seems almost impossible that the toll could have risen to 12 deaths. Have you ever heard of such a situation? Yet Aurora is just the latest in a long line of the failures of gun control.

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at

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