Published for The Washington Post, July 26th, 2012
At the proper time, however, the drawing of lessons is appropriate. What happened in a movie theater outside Denver was not an act of God — not the moral equivalent of an earthquake or a meteor strike — but the act of an apparently mentally unbalanced man with access to destructive weaponry. The quest to separate the mentally ill from modern armaments may well be hopeless. But it is at least worth a discussion.
First, would tighter gun-control laws — say, one banning the AR-15-style weapon that James Holmes allegedly used — have prevented the Aurora shooting? It is a difficult case to make. A committed, intelligent mass murderer will find a way. Gun-control laws do not reduce massacres in the same manner that OSHA regulations reduce industrial accidents. Massacres are purposely monstrous violations of the law, which marginal changes in the law are unlikely to prevent.
But there is another question: Given the existence of mental illness, criminal gangs and various ideologies of violence, what is a rational design for our gun laws? How do we preserve the right of self-defense and respect the rights of sportsmen while complicating the plans of the violent? The goal of gun control, in this case, is not to prevent specific crimes but generally to limit the destructive options of criminals.