Littwin: After the Lafayette shooting, the jury is still out on us

The shooter, we’re told, was a drifter, a word you rarely hear outside Hollywood westerns. But this couldn’t be a western, because in the West, they took your guns at the town limits. Or at least that’s how they did it in the movies.

Anyway, the drifter, a 59-year-old man named John Russell Houser, had come to Lafayette, Louisiana, from a small town in Alabama, 500 miles away, and was staying in a Motel 6, where the cops later found wigs, glasses and other disguises. This was planned. An escape was planned. And when he went to the theatre, three years after the Aurora shooting, six days after the Holmes verdict, he stood up a few minutes into the movie “Trainwreck” and began firing away.

There were “shot and more shots,” one witness said.

He killed two people and then, as cops closed in, he killed himself. At least one victim is critically wounded.

You are not surprised, I’m sure. Sickened maybe. Sick at heart, surely. Wondering what kind of pathetic copycat a 59-year-old drifter would have to be to imitate, if that’s what he was doing, the lunatic rantings of James Holmes.

And then you learn, from an AP report, that Houser was mentally ill. Of course he was. That his wife had once filed for a protective order against him, saying that she had “become so worried about the defendant’s volatile mental state that she has removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence.”

He still had at least one gun, although we don’t yet know how he got it. Alabama does not require a permit or a license to buy or own a handgun. Louisiana, by some measures, has the most lax gun laws in the country.

He had a .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol from which he took at least 13 shots, apparently shooting indiscriminately. The first two people Houser shot were the two who happened to be sitting in front of him at the theater. He was described as being “at ease” as he was spraying the theater.

No jury will have to determine whether he was legally sane. He’s dead. We can just know it was an insane act, just as the Aurora theater shooting was an insane act. We are told that mass murders are statistically rare, and they are. And yet, at the same time, they are always with us. And they beg us to look deeper, because they are just the front-page news of the gun-death epidemic in America, where we’ve transitioned over time from going postal to going to the movies.

Mother Jones has tracked shooting sprees since 1982 and found 61 mass murders occurring in 30 states. A Congressional Research Service report found 78 over the same period. The numbers depend on how you define a “mass murder.” Is it more than three dead or more than four? Is it indiscriminate killing or do you include terror killings?

However you count them, the numbers mock us and our unwillingness to do anything about them. I wrote after Sandy Hook that that was the ultimate test. If someone can kill 20 6-year olds and nothing changes, then nothing will change.

And so, nothing did change. And nothing has changed.

One thing Mother Jones has found in its study, the guns used in these killings were overwhelmingly purchased legally. Are gun laws working? And isn’t that the issue? We can’t even get the conversation to the point where we can discuss whether the laws are working. This is no surprise when Congress, at the NRA’s urging, had cut off funds for any federal studies of gun violence until Obama reinstituted them.

We have shootings in schools, in churches, in theaters, at Navy Yards, at Marine recruiting stations, and each time we wonder how it could happen. Was it a coincidence that we had a theater shooting around the news of the Aurora shooting? Presumably, the investigation into the shooting will tell us.

It was definitely an eerie coincidence that in the hours before the shooting, Barack Obama was talking to the BBC about his presidency and saying how the greatest disappointment of his tenure has been the inability to get basic gun-safety laws passed. The shootings in Charleston seemed to have further emboldened him in talking about the issue.

Obama told the BBC that if there’s “one area where I feel that I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied, it is the fact that the United States of America is the one advanced nation on earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense, gun-safety laws, even in the face of repeated mass killings.

“And you know, if you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands. And for us not to be able to resolve that issue has been something that is distressing. But it is not something that I intend to stop working on in the remaining 18 months.”

It is distressing that we do nothing. It is frustrating and distressing that we can’t even agree that the issue isn’t guns but gun violence.

In Aurora, a jury found James Holmes guilty and is in the process of determining his punishment. But for the rest of us, the jury is still out.

Photo credit: Patrick Feller, Creative Commons, Flickr


  1. Mr. Engelking asked a very good, simple, straightforward question: What does Mr. Littwin think should be done about gun violence?

    In return he received a cliche-laden, politician-worthy non-answer. Mr. Littwin talked about “political will” and doing “something different and very quickly.”

    Well, duh!

    How can that political will be created and what specifically can be done quickly and differently?

    According to President Obama: “And you know, if you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands.”

    Implying, of course, that gun violence should be of more concern to Americans then terrorism.

    OK, well how about this: If you look at the numbers collected by Mother Jones, less that three hundred Americans have been killed in “mass” killings since 9/11. So why does the media-driven conversation turn to gun violence only when these “statistically rare” mass murders occur?

    Put another way, what should be of greater concern to Americans: the less than 300 killed in mass murders since 9/11 or the other “tens of thousands” President Obama says have been killed by gun violence?

    And why does the media attention given these tens of thousands of lives claimed by gun violence never reach the level of attention given mass killings? Why is the media perspective on gun violence so narrow? Politics?

    In an article concerning gang violence in Chicago the Huffington Post wrote: “In 2013, nearly 2,000 people in Chicago were shot and 329 were killed.” So, the number of people shot and killed by gangs in one city in one year exceeds the total number of people killed by mass murders since 9/11.

    Do you want to take a wild guess at the number of columns Mr. Littwin has written for the Colorado Independent that were devoted to gangs and gun violence? Hint: it rhymes with Nero. Why is Mr. Littwin’s perspective on gun violence so parochial?

    Mr. Littwin is a long-time proponent of gun control laws and I’m sure has some ideas on what can and should be done about the type of gun violence President Obama claims has taken tens of thousands of lives. So why doesn’t he share those ideas with readers?

    And why doesn’t he write about gun violence in forms other then mass murders?

    “The Iran deal, then, is good enough for the president because it delays until after the end of his term any reckoning with what he himself describes as an anti-Semitic revisionist troublemaking power.” – Matthew Continetti

    “I support anyone’s right to be who they want to be. My question is: to
    what extent do I have to participate in your self-image?” – Dave Chappelle

    “A 24-year-old Kuwaiti-born gunman opened fire on a military recruiting station on Thursday, then raced to a second military site where he killed four United States Marines, prompting a federal domestic terrorism investigation. Three other people, including a Marine Corps recruiter and a police officer, were wounded, according to law enforcement officials: – New York Times

    “This new Dream, seeking revolutionary change in how America works, is not only impossible, but based on the faulty assumption that black Americans are the world’s first group who can only excel under ideal conditions. We are perhaps the first people on earth taught to consider it insulting when someone suggests we try to cope with the system as it is—even when that person is black, or even the President.” – John McWhorter, Daily Beast

    “Take also, for instance, the wage gap statistic recited everywhere between a sociology class and the President’s speeches: That women make 70-something cents on a dollar to a man. The truth is that this is, again, a misleading statistic that tries to apply nationally aggregated data to the level of the individual. TIME writes that “the 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure or hours worked per week. When suchrelevant factors are considered, the wage gap narrows to the point of vanishing.” – Aristotelis Orginos

    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Folds of Honor
    Veterans Day – November 11, 2015

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