Aurora suspect James Holmes at first sight, but will the feeling fade?

Get a good look. On Monday, the Joker appeared.

James Holmes, the alleged gunman at the Aurora Batman viewing, made his first appearance in court and through the media, the world stage.

He was silent, except for his red-dyed hair, and a flurry of facial expressions in response to a judge’s reading of his rights that seemed to indicate that maybe even Holmes himself can’t quite believe what’s real, and what’s not.

Is it the face of a crazed loon? Or a cold-hearted killer who gunned down 12 and wounded 58?

Asian Americans have had our share of deranged mass killers amongst us. The two biggest? One L. Goh, the Oikos University shooter who killed seven in Oakland earlier this year. And, of course, Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, who killed 32 people and wounded 25 in 2007.

While some among us may have breathed a sigh of relief to know that Holmes, the Batman shooter, was white–and not Asian American–I have to admit race didn’t enter into the picture for me ever as the story unfolded.

And I am a big proponent of using race as an identifier at all times.

Still, on mass killings in general, I’m not thinking about race.

I’m not even thinking Al-Qaeda.

When a story breaks, people are people.

And guns are guns.

Ethnicity of people? I want to know about the kind of guns that were used.


Sure enough, once again, we have a situation where someone was allowed to legally purchase way too many guns and enough ammo to be a public danger. According to news reports, Holmes bought four guns in two months: a Glock and a shotgun from a Bass Pro shop like the one a mile away from me; then an AR-15 military assault rifle from a Gander Mountain store; for good measure, he bought one more Glock pistol from Bass Pro. The ammo, some 6,000 rounds, was purchased on the internet. Background checks? There was nothing to deter his accumulation of arms.

Certainly, there was nothing newsworthy until that night when Holmes decided to declare himself “The Joker.”

That the real life violence mirrored the movie violence appeared to dominate the initial discussion, as if violent movies really can incite murder. Talk about a red herring. The most violent film you can think of couldn’t possibly inspire mass murder like a loaded AR-15.

So far, the story is taking shape as these massacre stories always do, with the initial focus on the first responders (who get better with each mass killing), then the tears of survivors, and the names of victims and heroes. Next will come the funerals, spectacles all with public officials in attendance. The rhetoric will flow, but my concerns are that all the talk will ultimately be empty.

When the news cycle ends, all is forgotten.

No one ever gets around to the real discussion that needs to happen–that there are too many guns and that it’s way too easy to obtain them.

The reason? In America, the gun lobby always prevails.

And it’s likely to happen again in Aurora.


Look at the Oikos shootings in Oakland earlier this year. The story is completely off the national watch, and there is no lasting debate about anything connected to it. Gun control? Asian American mental health? Nothing.

Is seven dead not enough? Were there just too many immigrants and minorities among the west coast Oikos victims to make the New York media interested in keeping the story alive nationally? Seven dead, among them African, Filipino, Chinese, Korean, and there’s nothing.

Aurora’s victims are mostly all white, as is the shooter. Do news folks think America can relate to that horror a tad better?

As I said, race in the initial reports of a mass shooting isn’t germane. But somehow, it seems to matter when it comes to the ongoing coverage. Coincidently, you couldn’t help noticing the diversity among the journalistic first responders. There were a number of Asian Americans reporting on the story admirably, like CNN’s Kyung Lah and the Denver Post’_s Aurora reporter, Joe Nguyen. Even Ann Curry was there on Saturday to talk to victims, but it was an awkward distraction to see her first exchange with the new _Today host, Savannah Guthrie, after such a public demotion. On Monday, the network wisely avoided it, sending Kate Snow to do the dirty work.

But in this story’s development, it was the arrival of President Obama that really surprised me. And it was just in time for what I did expect, the vigils with the local pols and preachers.

While the Batman shooting was truly horrific, it made me wonder why Obama didn’t show up in Oakland for Oikos? Is twelve dead the threshold? Is it that a movie theatre shooting at the summer’s biggest film just resonates with too many people versus a shoot’em up at a private college of mostly immigrants?

The cynic in me thinks the president took advantage of a swing state’s nightmare. But it is important to see the president on the scene to show how our nation’s leader can console a nation during what is a national tragedy. Obama almost achieved that, but for me, he was perhaps a bit too somber. He needed to balance that with a sense of anger. We needed a strong call to action to end the senseless violence that occurs in America.

The president talked mostly about his visit with the victims’ families. He said he “tried to assure them that although the perpetrator of this evil act has received a lot of attention over the last couple of days, that attention will fade away.”

The last few words jarred me: “Fade away?”

Let’s hope not.

James Holmes is our best chance in America to debunk the NRA’s stupid gun logic, which has stopped cold any common sense solutions to America’s excessive gun violence for years.

Gun logic? It’s the logic that hijacked the 2nd Amendment and insists that more guns make America safe and free.

So take a good look at James Holmes from his first court appearance.

Then look at him again and again. The raw emotion and empathy he evokes for the Aurora victims may be just what we need to spur a genuine public outcry. That’s what it will take to end the NRA’s stranglehold on meaningful gun control.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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