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John Florez: Lessons from the Aurora massacre

Published: Saturday, July 28 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Eyewitness Jacob Stevens, 18, hugs his mother Tammi Stevens after being interview by police outside Gateway High School where witnesses were brought for questioning Friday, July 20, 2012 in Aurora, Colo. A gunman wearing a gas mask set off an unknown gas and fired into the crowded movie theater killing 12 people and injuring at least 50 others, authorities said. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, RJ Sangosti) TV, INTERNET AND MAGAZINES CALL FOR RATES AND TERMS

RJ Sangosti, AP

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In a free society, could the Aurora massacre have been prevented? What lessons have we learned?

Americans always need to have quick answers to any problem and someone or something to blame. The Aurora massacre tragedy has touched the hearts of all of us and sent us seeking answers to such senseless loss of lives. Immediately afterward, we had the talking heads on television telling us they had the final answers as to the causes for the massacre, motive for the alleged killer — too many fire arms, TV, movies, Internet, drugs. They are quick to propose solutions: ban firearms; enforce stronger penalties; ban violent movies and TV shows; and draft stricter laws.

Then we have the armchair psychoanalysts telling us what drove the alleged killer to commit such a heinous crime — he was a loner, a psychopath, evil and angry; the usual answers, only more of them. Mental health professionals may have initial impressions, but know that diagnosis and treatment is a dynamic process that changes, as more information is available.

The day after the shooting, I talked with a friend who is a mental health professional. She had her own theory about what might have driven the perpetrator to commit such a crime. He was intelligent and academically highly successful and saw himself as such. He began to experience failure when he could not find a job even after graduating top of his class in college. He then moved and enrolled in the University of Colorado's neuroscience Ph.D program, where he reportedly withdrew after a year.

She surmised that's when the perpetrator began to show troubling signs. He may have seen his persona — as always being successful — changing to that of loser. He might have become angry, delusional and may have begun identifying himself with the Joker in the Batman series. The Joker was a clever, bright and cunning character who was always plotting evil things, yet, in the end, was the loser. So, it was not surprising that the perpetrator took on the character of the Joker, and he cleverly plotted to show the world that he was not a loser by trying to show he was a winner with his mass killing at a Batman movie. It was a movie in which the Joker was also excluded. Even at the end of his crime spree, he tried to show how smart and in control he was by wiring explosives inside his apartment.

That's another theory, and we still don't have all the answers. What is apparent is that in a free society, individual crimes such as this one could not have been prevented. It's the price of living in an open society. And we do have a justice system to handle such matters. More punitive laws could not have prevented this act of violence.

What lessons have we learned? If you see something, say something. However, the most important lesson we can learn is that in times of crises we discover the things we have in common as human beings and how we need each other.

It helped us realize how short, fragile and precious life is and how we need to hold on and love each other.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

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