These are difficult words to write.
None of our words or acts can undo that which was done. We cannot restore the lives of 62 people, their families, friends and lovers to what they were 48 hours ago.
Colorado has just experienced the third mass shooting in recent years. The inexplicable carnage in these random acts of violence defies the norms of civilization and humanity.
The first was, of course Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. 12 students and a teacher died, along with the suicides of the two attackers.
The second, which received less attention, was on December 9, 2007. 24 year old Matthew Murray, who had been expelled from the Missionary Training Program at the Youth With a Ministry in Arvada, Colorado. He returned to the center shortly after midnight and shot two to death and wounded two others. He later drove 70 miles to the parent church, The New Life Ministry in Colorado Springs, and again opened fire, killing two and wounding two before a security guard shot him. The wounds were not fatal, but he proceeded to commit suicide.
Yesterday was the theater shootings at the Century Theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 and wounding 50. The assailant, James Holmes, surrounded peacefully, an equally inexplicable ending.
We feel for the victims, the lives tragically cut short and the injured, some grievously disabled for life, and all emotionally scarred for life. We comfort the survivors.
We create memorials, temporary and permanent, establish funds to which Americans generously contribute, and then move on, as we must. The living continue to live their lives.
We ask questions too. How can we prevent future tragedies of this nature? What caused the mad man, and it is almost always men, to commit this act? How about stricter gun controls?
The underlying problem is that Americas has a plethora of targets, and we cannot safeguard them against random acts.
I did a study several years ago (available on ssrn.com if you suffer from insomnia) on school safety and discovered how pervasive these seemingly random acts are in America. Here is a partial list of the often mislabeled “Going Postal” syndrome: McDonald's, Dennys, Albertsons Supermarkets (with a samurai sword), airports, beauty salons, car washes, casinos, churches, city halls and courthouses, computer firms, factories, gas stations, government offices, housing complexes, malls, Indian reservations, subways, and even law firms, a movie theater, and an Amish school. The “D.C. Sniper” terrorized the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. A Congresswoman was shot a year ago at a rally in a supermarket parking lot in Tuscon, Arizona.
Weapons include guns, knives, poisons, chemicals, and cars.
And that's just in this country.
The assailants may have a grudge against the specific victims or establishments, or just a generalized grievance. They have included present and former employees, students and even teachers. Some acts are hate crimes. Others are by religious zealots.
The attackers are sometimes known to be “creepy,” if not dangerous. Many though are a total surprise, such as the February 14, 2008 shootings at Northern Illinois, where a graduate returned and killed 5, wounded 21, and then committed suicide. He had gone off his meds before the tragedy, a not uncommon occurrence.
Precautions can reduce, but not eliminate the risks. Normal security measures may be ineffective against these killers. A police officer was on duty at Columbine, but could not be at all places at all times. A student at Red Lake High School killed his grandfather, a tribal officer, and grandmother the night before, stole his grandfather’s guns, and then at the school’s metal detector the next day, killed the unarmed security officer, five students, and a teacher.
The challenge of society is to protect everyone and everything against every conceivable threat in our large, complex society. The threats are infinite while the resources are limited. Therefore, we must prioritize and can only require reasonable efforts to minimize the chances or consequences of attacks.
Schools and law enforcement are now scrutinizing the web, looking for potential killers before they can act. It’s amazing how much damming revelations are posted on line, even in social network sites.
Protocols are often in place to minimize the risks of an incident, as well as facilitate response efforts.
Lessons are learned from past tragedies, and steps implemented for the future. But the risks remain because these random acts of violence, these mass tragedies will occur again.
Law enforcement has an impossible job, but they have many successes.
We go on and live our lives, just as we live in earthquake country, because we figure it will not happen to us or our loved ones.