Epstein: "Will Banning Guns Prevent Another Aurora?"

Will Banning Guns Prevent Another Aurora?
Richard A. Epstein
Defining Ideas
July 24, 2012

The macabre tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, which left at least 12 people dead and 58 seriously wounded, is a grim reminder of the helpless position in which innocent people can find themselves at the hands of a maniac. No fictional film can top the tale of James Holmes, a former graduate student in neuroscience, who was decked out in “ballistic” regalia as he entered the Century 16 movie theater shortly after midnight during a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Armed with assault weapons and tear or smoke gas bombs, he first immobilized and then shot his victims without reason or remorse. To top matters off, he then booby-trapped his apartment in an apparent effort to kill or maim the police officers that were likely to search it.

It is easy to condemn Holmes’s dastardly actions. It is harder to figure out what to do now. No one should make light of the difficulties involved in trying to craft a sensible policy in response to such senseless behavior. But the sad truth is that there is precious little that any society can do to defend itself against these periodic tragedies that crop up every several years or so.

To see why, it is necessary to adopt a clinical, detached, and cautious attitude, which seems so utterly ill-suited for the occasion. That analytical approach divides the inquiry into two parts. The first asks about the sanctions that can be directed against the individual miscreant who committed the particular actions. The second asks about the institutional responses that could be enacted to nip such tragedies in the bud. Both face many pitfalls on the path toward implementation.

Richard A. Epstein