The night of Friday, July 20 was destined to make headlines — but never for this.
After three years of spiraling anticipation, the premier of The Dark Knight Rises was supposed to be the pinnacle of the American movie-going experience. But, in the aftermath of the midnight mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the nation wasn’t enthralled by the big screen. Instead, we were collectively shell-shocked by this latest murderous rampage, which killed 12 dead and wounded 58 others.
As we mourn these senseless deaths, the media is sensationalizing the life and disappointments of James Holmes, the 24-year-old sole suspect behind the tragedy. Was he an obsessive fan with a blurred vision of reality? A lonely boy looking to be heard? Or an ambitious student weighed down by pressures to succeed? An entire narrative is spinning around him. It’s a mythology that looks to craft as much fascination with the shooter as there was for the Batman movie itself.But the particulars of Holmes’ biography, riveting as they may be, should not become our take-away from what happened in Colorado. The heart of this story is not the state of James Holmes but the state of our country.
We’ve become a nation of jumbled values. While parents, politicians and everyone in between declare community safety a sacred right, movies glorify violence. And as we all mourn Colorado’s needless deaths, gun-rights groups rail against the thought of stricter gun control.
But beneath the NRA’s narrative of freedom and self-defense, “good, traditional American values,” lies a simple truth: The gun industry is exactly that — an industry. And theirs is a profit motive so brutal that, according to one study, the gun industry is “working to recruit future customers among America’s children…through advertising campaigns and even video games.”
They’re also working to keep guns ready at hand, pouring over $5,500,000 last year to lobby politicians.
How easy was it for Holmes to buy his weapons? Very. Colorado has some of the flimsiest gun laws in the United States: The assault rifle, shotgun, and handgun Holmes bought in the span of only a few months were all perfectly legal and raised zero flags. And where local distributors failed, there was always the unregulated online market, which outfitted Holmes with thousands of bullets and ballistic gear.
Each gun or bullet sold is profit in someone’s eyes, so it’s no wonder that every time we talk about gun control, a deafening uproar emerges. And there’s little incentive for politicians to take a stand, either. Industry is industry, after all, and any production will raise GDP. Perversely, the more guns we churn out, the better off we call ourselves. Politicians get swelling statistics to market off to voters, the gun industry gets tenuous regulation, and we get ever more gun fatalities.
There’s a defect in our priorities. We look at price tags and call it “value.” But what of those dozens of victims in Colorado? Or the other estimated 100,000 people killed or injured by guns each year?
If we really must attach a dollar sign to understand, the University of Chicago Crime Lab pegs the annual cost of gun violence at $100 billion. But for all the media attention the Aurora shooting has gotten, most gun crimes flit silently under our radar — out of sight, out of mind. The societal damages they inflict are buried under headlines and forgotten.
For these unheard victims, it’s time we get our values straight. We can’t simply take gun sales at face-value. We must consider the staggering costs they carry along. The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) is one possible step in that direction. The GPI, an alternate measurement to GDP, broadens our concept of wellbeing by integrating social, economic, and environmental indicators in its calculations of progress. One of these indicators, sure enough, is crime.
The Maryland GPI, for example, factors in not only direct out-of-pocket expenses, but also the more profound damages of crime, like trauma and fear, when determining its state-wide wellbeing. That way, when Maryland’s legislators evaluate gun policy and regulation, they will realize the deeper, more substantial impacts that will work their way throughout the state.
The Colorado shootings have made one thing certain: We need to reorient our values. We need progress to be defined not by gun sales, but by the safety of our communities. And so we need a yardstick that will show both politicians and the public the true costs of our gun-wielding culture and the dangerous, short-sighted policies they have spawned. Only then will we have taken to heart the true message of Friday’s tragedy. Only then will it not have been in vain.
Vicky Plestis is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies, where she helps research alternative models of measuring economic progress. www.ips-dc.org