After years of going to midnight premieres for the biggest movies of the summer, there was no other place my brother and I would be for the last premiere of the Batman trilogy. The theater in Denver was packed with people I knew, and everyone was excited. This included many people who were way too old to be dressing up but did so anyway.
While the audience in my theater watched with bated breath to see if Gotham would be saved, hell was breaking loose in our own city, just 20 minutes away.
A crazed gunman, who does not deserve to be named on the same page as his victims, entered the Aurora Century 16 multiplex and began a rampage. As the movie continued to play, 12 innocent victims were killed and 59 others were wounded. These people were neither in a bad neighborhood nor in a city that is a target for terrorist attacks. The shooting, one of worst mass murders in American history, rocked all of America because it truly could have happened anywhere.
This is not the first senseless tragedy that Colorado has experienced. In 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Jefferson County forever changed our world by bringing guns to school and killing 13 people. Their act has come to define our generation. We were the first generation whose parents had to fear sending us to school, the first generation that practiced lock-down drills for gun attacks, the first generation to know that this would never stop being a reality.
The July 20 movie shooting is similar. Security will increase at movie theaters, and many other precautions will be taken. The magical experience of escaping our world for a few hours will forever be accompanied by at least a little fear every time someone comes back from the bathroom.
My city feels like an incredibly big place, but this tragedy helped remind me how connected we all are. Gordon Cowden, a loving father, and Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring sports journalist and great friend, were two fellow Coloradans killed that night who had profound impacts on my friends and family. Inspiring stories have come out in the past week that shed light on the wonderful lives all 12 victims lived. I see broken hearts all over the city; it is difficult to imagine that it will ever be the same. In an opinion article printed in the Denver Post, a Colorado state senator tried to answer the questions the entire country is facing: What can we do and how can we fight back?
“The answer is we love back,” Michael Johnston wrote. “We live back. We deepen our commitments to all the unnumbered acts of kindness that make America an unrendable fabric. We respond by showing that we will play harder, and longer. We will serve more meals, play more games, eat more food, listen to more jazz, go to more movies, give more hugs, and say more ‘thank yous’ and ‘I love yous’ than ever before.”
While words can bring some comfort to those close to the victims, we have a duty to those affected to act. The shooter legally purchased four guns in the last 60 days, including an AR-15 assault weapon. Additionally, he was able to obtain 6,000 rounds of ammunition, a drum magazine that could fire 50 to 60 rounds per minute and military-grade armor online without anyone questioning it. It is unbelievable that one can purchase these items online without any background checks; it is even more unbelievable that this quantity of purchase happened so frequently and that it went unquestioned.
Gun lobbies, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), proclaim that the Second Amendment allows for citizens to have weapons to shoot 71 people in two minutes. In 2008, the NRA spent $10 million to make sure that there is the least bit of regulation possible on all gun sales. The NRA is right in saying that the Constitution allows citizens to bear arms, but there is a big difference between guns that are used for hunting and protection and military-grade weapons with extended magazines that are only used for mass murder.
In the wake of this shooting, it is up to Americans to demand a change to the status quo. This starts with reauthorizing the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban and continues with outlawing online purchases of ammunition and body armor without proper background checks. These restrictions may not have prevented the movie massacre in Aurora, but they are still the right changes to implement. Gun lobbyists in the next election may target politicians who support these modest regulations, but I hope that supporting policies that would save lives is more important to them than winning an election.
Colorado and the entire United States of America mourn for the families and friends of 12 wonderful people who were killed for going to a movie: Jonathan Blunk, 26; A.J. Boik, 18; Jesse Childress, 29; Gordon Cowden, 51; Jessica Ghawi, 24; John Larimer, 27; Matt McQuinn, 27; Micayla Medek, 23; Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6; Alex Sullivan, 27; Alex Teves, 24; and Rebecca Wingo, 32. For those looking to contribute, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, in partnership with the Community First Foundation, established the Aurora Victim Relief Fund, which is now taking donations at www.givingfirst.org.
Ethan Kessinger ‘15