Aurora one year later

You can love the soldier and hate the war.

In fact, some would argue that care and concern about a soldier’s welfare is the ultimate reason to protest a war.

But staging an anti-war rally in view of a graveside funeral for a soldier killed in the line of duty would draw universal condemnation as a cruel and insensitive publicity stunt.

That dynamic played out at Cherry Creek State Park Friday as Rocky Mountain Gun Owners scheduled a rally to coincide with a remembrance ceremony for victims of the Aurora theater massacre, which took place one year ago yesterday.

Gun rights advocates have every right, of course, to assemble and make speeches defending their constitutional right to bear arms. But the taunting quality of such an event will never win the hearts and minds of anybody who isn’t already in the pro-gun camp. So what’s the point? It’s repugnant to celebrate gun ownership as families mourn those whose lives were taken through an act of gun-related violence.

It’s hardly worth repudiating. Anyone with a sense of decency would find the pro-gun rally in poor taste. But it points to a larger problem of how tragedies such as Aurora … and Columbine ... and Sandy Hook ... are so quickly repurposed as political hot buttons.

These horrifying events have a common life cycle. There’s a period of great compassion and a coming together as a community — and a country. We cry for the families who lost someone to a senseless act of violence. We applaud the speeches by public figures who say we have to find a way of never letting it happen again. Then political fights ensue over background checks and magazine clips and assault weapons, all the while making the victims’ families wince as they see their loved ones reduced to pawns in a chess match. Or worse yet, forgotten entirely.

That’s what we do. We move on. “Aurora” will forever mean “mass shooting,” “crazy-eyes killer” and fear of attending midnight movie premieres. It will become a blip in our consciousness instantly associated with something evil. Our hope is that it becomes a turning point — that it leads to a vigorous and healthy discourse not only on gun control but the underlying mental health issues that precipitated the violence.

It starts with finding common ground instead of drawing lines in the sand. It starts with pro-gun advocates showing sensitivity to victims and finding a more lucid, digestible message about why owning guns is an important right other than “because the Constitution says so.” It starts with gun-control proponents acknowledging that the vast majority of licensed gun owners —  i.e. the ones who pass the background checks — are law-abiding citizens who can’t be lumped in with the criminal element.

Most importantly, we must look beyond guns. Senate Bill 266 wasn’t crafted specifically in response to the Aurora shootings, but it addresses the need for more comprehensive and accessible behavioral health services. This bill will create a comprehensive mental health crisis response system by requiring the Department of Human Services to work with a committee of stakeholders to develop five key components of the system: a 24-hour crisis hotline, walk-in services, mobile services, residential and respite services and a public information campaign. It’s proactive, sensible policies such as this that will prevent the next massacre — not the inexhaustible and unproductive rhetoric of the gun debate.


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