On July 20, 2012, James Holmes entered a packed movie theatre in Aurora, CO, that was screening the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” and started shooting people at random. At the time, he was armed with a shotgun, a civilian version of the military M-16 assault rifle equipped with a 100-round drum magazine, two .40-caliber handguns, and protective armor. Twelve people were killed and 58 wounded. In a final twist, police found Holmes’ apartment booby-trapped with explosives. James Holmes had no prior criminal record and he purchased his firearms legally from licensed gun dealers in Colorado, and also bought more than 6000 rounds of ammunition over the internet.
Sixteen days later, on August 5, 2012, Wade Michael Page, shot six worshippers to death and wounded another three at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, WI, before taking his own life. Page was a US army veteran and was armed with a 9mm semiautomatic pistol that he had acquired legally.
On December 14, 2012, the country was shocked by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In this case, Adam Lanza, 20, allegedly first shot and killed his own mother, then went on a rampage at the elementary school that left 26 people dead, including 20 children, before killing himself. The shooter’s mother, Nancy Lanza, possessed five guns in her collection, all of which were legally acquired and registered: two handguns, two hunting rifles, and a semiautomatic military-style rifle. Of these, Mr. Lanza took the handguns and the semiautomatic rifle to Sandy Hook Elementary.
On April 15, 2013, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 200. During the ensuing investigation and manhunt during which the cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Watertown were effectively shut down, the suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, allegedly shot and killed officer Sean Collier of the MIT police and engaged in a long gun battle with the police on the streets of Watertown, MA. Tamerlan was killed in the battle, while Dzhokhar was captured the next evening. In addition to possessing explosives, the brothers carried at least one rifle, handguns, and 250 rounds of ammunition. Based on reports from the Cambridge Police Department, neither suspect had a license to own firearms.
Together, these tragic events have galvanized calls for tougher gun control laws. Proponents of such laws seem to identify greater restrictions/regulations on the access to specific kinds of weapons and ammunition as the solution to this issue. Meanwhile, opponents of gun control have quickly counter that such laws violate the 2nd amendment rights granted by the constitution. Furthermore, they argue that new laws only make it more difficult for law abiding citizens to acquire guns while doing little to stop criminals from acquiring weapons illegally. Who is right? Can anything be done to prevent the occurrence of such tragedies? Or they the price of a free society? And what are our current gun control laws and how are they enforced? These are questions that I will attempt to address over the next few posts.