Don’t Blame Batman for the Aurora Shooting

In a rush to make sense of this tragic event, we are focusing too much on superficial detail

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Ed Andrieski / AP

The Century 16 movie theater where as many as 12 people were killed and many injured at a shooting during the showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo., July 20, 2012.

The tragic shooting in a Colorado movie theater, in which 12 people died and approximately 50 were wounded, has understandably caused both fear and confusion. Given that this shooting happened to take place at a showing of the new Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises, I’m already fielding questions about whether Batman somehow caused, in whole or in part, this shooter to commit his crimes. The simple answer is clearly “no.”

At present we know very little about the shooter James Holmes, and so we’re obsessively focusing on some of the more superficial details of this case. It’s worth noting that The Dark Knight Rises is playing in 4,404 out of 5,331 total theaters in the U.S. this weekend (and many of those theaters are showing the movie on multiple screens). Had the massacre occurred a couple of weekends ago, we might have been parsing The Amazing Spider-Man or The Avengers or even The Hunger Games for “clues” as to the shooter’s motivation. Summer blockbusters tend to be violent, which brings us to the next misconception, which is that violent entertainment leads to actual violence.

(MORE: Who Is James Holmes, the Aurora Shooting Suspect?)

At this point the argument that mass homicides can be explained, even in part, by violent entertainment is scientifically unproven, as I’ve noted with colleagues Mark Coulson and Jane Barnett in the Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations.  A 2002 report by the U.S. Secret Service found little evidence that mass homicide perpetrators consume unusual amounts of violent media. Few people doubt that violent entertainment is more available now than at any point in history. Yet as Stephen Pinker documents in his latest book The Better Angels of Our Nature, we are living at the most peaceful epoch in human history. It would probably be difficult to find very many young men in the U.S. who haven’t seen at least one of the Batman movies, yet despite this and all of the violent entertainment options available, youth violence has been steadily plummeting, and is at its lowest levels since the 1960s.

(MORE: Don’t Get Distracted by Anders Breivik’s Oddities)

The shooter in this case, James Holmes, may or may not be a Batman fanatic, but if it wasn’t Batman it would be something else. Historically, most mass murderers share the characteristics of having antisocial personality traits, mental illness, and a feeling of being wronged by either specific individuals or society more generally. Unfortunately some of these deranged individuals will latch onto any one of a number of things as a distorted rationale for their crimes. Trying to make sense of it is pointless. Of course, many perpetrators don’t latch onto anything culturally, but simply kill as a response to their own wretched lives and the desire to make someone — anyone — pay. And most mass homocides don’t occur in movie theaters but in businesses or schools, often because the perpetrator is angry about events occurring there, either being fired, disciplined or receiving perceived mistreatment by peers.

(MORE: Video Games Don’t Make Kids Violent)

But we tend to focus on the shootings with cultural overtones, and we read too much into those overtones. This is a common reaction of a frightened populace looking to fix random, usually uncontrollable events. The wishful thinking underlying this impulse is that if we could get rid of those “cultural” influences, mass homocides would go away. In some cases, knee-jerk speculation tends to be plain wrong. Much of the blame for the Jared Lee Loughner shooting in Arizona was initially placed on right-wing political speech, which proved to be a red-herring. And violent video games were blamed in the Virginia Tech Shooting, although official investigation revealed that the shooter did not play violent video games.

These events are tragic and frightening, but unfortunately, there are no quick, easy answers. We need to give investigators time to sift through the details. Instead of obsessing over Batman, let’s instead occupy our time with thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families.

MORE: After Aurora, Lessons from Columbine

52 comments
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Ron
Ron

 I think that it's better for public places to have metal detectors or

security guards inspecting people's bags and also to have wands in order

to prevent another tragedy. When I was in high school in the

Philippines, the cadets inspected my bags and also all of the students'

bags and they also did pat-downs on me and all of the students before the students and I proceeded to our classrooms. I felt a lot safer when they did this everyday.

Holly Lewis
Holly Lewis

Batman is anti-guns. That's part of his 'code'. Because he's meant to be better than the criminals he fights. He fights people who use guns and kill without using guns and without using lethal force.  This man is the opposite of Batman and the Batman message.

He's just a madman with a gun.

matttwithonet
matttwithonet

But isn't that just like the Joker?  Or is it impossible for someone to idealize a super villain?  Because I know I have at times.. and if someone with a screw loose enough is in a situation to idealize a "madman with a gun," what's to say he wouldn't do the easy thing and just be the bad guy?  Seems pretty logical, considering he was dressed as, and claiming to be, the Joker.  From Batman.

JudHanson
JudHanson

It is sure to come up in conversations across the country: are violent tv shows, movies and books driving people to commit crimes and acts of terror? There is no easy answer. What we don't need though is a call to censor what we are allowed watch and read. Such action would strip us of our most basic rights.

Lastamericangrex
Lastamericangrex

My friends this article is a symbol of whats wrong with this country. People died that night instead of an article about the families that lost loved ones you publish this trash, worried about your bottom line? Time I will no longer be reading your magazine or website goodbye.

Lastamericangrex
Lastamericangrex

My friends this article is a symbol of whats wrong with this country. People died that night instead of an article about the families that lost loved ones you publish this trash, worried about your bottom line? Time I will no longer be reading your magazine or website goodbye.

Frank_Doghearty
Frank_Doghearty

When I arrived in this country from Europe in 1988, I was shocked that in America adults (!?) watch Batman. Even as a comic book, I would not give it to my kids... That, however, is irrelevant here. Nutty guy dressed up as a villain enters midnight screening, shoots everyone in sight. Mental case for sure. I am supporting the idea of "well-organized militias," but cannot condone nutcases carrying. The question is: who would have known? Sometimes you just do not. I expect corporate private armies well before the US military would attack civilians here. At the same time, I do feel safer to be able to concealed carry and to be able to use a gun against an intruder in my home. I would more than willingly join a local militia, but that is already politics: who would call the shots? It is better to remain unpredictable. The political/economic elite of our corporatocracy profits from fear-mongering, but it would also profit from banning guns. It is a win-win for them. Those who live in fear are capable of anything... Are you afraid?

thethinker08
thethinker08

I don't know about gun control because that doesn't work. Did you know that everyone in Switzerland Gov't issues every adult with a gun and train them with the responsibility? They have the lowest gun related crime than any civilized country in the world? It is not about the wild west as some call it but protecting you and others regardless if the police is around or not.

txn3456
txn3456

When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

thethinker08
thethinker08

Perhaps the police was minutes away but 12 were killed and 50 were injured. No telling how many more were affect but this horror. If we were carrying, he'd be dead a lot quicker before he could do further damages and death.

carlcgranieri
carlcgranieri

Batman, per se, no. Of course not. A culture obsessed with violence perpetrating violence upon itself in spectacular and theatrical ways? Most certainly, yes.

carlcgranieri
carlcgranieri

Batman, per se, no. A society obsessed with violence perpetrating violence upon itself? Yes, most certainly. 

Scott Howell
Scott Howell

Why should I believe a guy who can't spell homicide?

Squeesheiro
Squeesheiro

Once more the absurdity of a country where health is not a basic right but owning guns is. What do you need guns for? Protecting yourself? From whom? People with... guns?

Kimsbenn
Kimsbenn

If removing guns from citizens decreased crime then a country who has enacted this type of legislation should be the safest. On the contrary these countries they are not. People will always find ways to kill each other and criminals will always have guns. Statistically a criminal is less like to attack a person they know or strongly suspect to be armed. To decrease gun violence it is more effective to cure the cause, which could be a better and more satisfying life that includes appropriate access to healthcare.

Tom Soleau
Tom Soleau

I couldn't agree more with this article. All the talking heads over the course of the last two days. Have been trying to figure out why this man murdered innocent people. Unfortunately I don't think we will get an answer that will satisfy us. That's why the media and politicians latch on to scapegoats like violent video games and movies. The blame lies only on one person and that is the man who pulled  the trigger and shot those people. It's crimes like this that make us like characters like Batman in the first place. Even though he is a fictional character, he is a symbol of justice and hope. No Batman is not responsible for this tragedy, it's the fault of this deranged man's actions. 

Tom Soleau
Tom Soleau

I couldn't agree more with this article. All the talking heads over the course of the last two days. Have been trying to figure out why this man murdered innocent people. Unfortunately I don't think we will get an answer that will satisfy us. That's why the media and politicians latch on to scapegoats like violent video games and movies. The blame lies only on one person and that is the man who pulled  the trigger and shot those people. It's crimes like this that make us like characters like Batman in the first place. Even though he is a fictional character, he is a symbol of justice and hope. No Batman is not responsible for this tragedy, it's the fault of this deranged man's actions. 

Nathu Nash'ath
Nathu Nash'ath

If the guy had been a Muslim, the answer would have been 'terrorist'. If the guy had been black, the answer would have been 'gangster'. And because the guy is white, it always ends up being a mental problem. Sweet.

monjenl
monjenl

Yeah, why do they always say white people are crazy?

Grant Phillips
Grant Phillips

Just because you stereotype your perceptions of society and their response onto others  based on race and religion is a interesting look into your own.  

It's a weak argument with no basis in the complexity of the influences of society, culture and environmental factors.

happydayfortennis
happydayfortennis

I think he's saying that's how the media portrays situations like these, not how he himself sees the world.

happydayfortennis
happydayfortennis

@twitter-28713094:disqus It's funny, you're basically telling me to not be judgmental, but you end your argument with "so stop being so racist," when I've said nothing even remotely racist. Just because I have a different interpretation of Nathu's comment doesn't automatically make me "so racist."

Jason Payne
Jason Payne

Yes, but Grant is saying that perhaps Nathu should check himself. Especially since the Virginia Tech shooter was ASIAN!

Seriously. Nathu overgeneralized, and made some serious false assumptions. His false assumption severely overlooks the seriousness and severity of the crimes, as well the demographics. I'm sure that if a BLACK MAN commited a mass shooting such as this, he too would be labeled crazy.

And while I think the possibility does exist that people might think "terrorist"  if a muslim did this, that was also a question that arose during this current shooting. The news media outlets and the authorities did actually look in to whether or not this was a terrorist act. So stop being so racist.

txn3456
txn3456

Don't blame Batman, but we'll sure blame the gun and America's "gun culture".   

The fact is, it wasn't Batman's fault, it wasn't the fault of the guns or other weapons he had, it wasn't the fault of the 2nd Amendment, and it wasn't the fault of the NRA.   All blame and fault for this tragedy falls on the shoulders of James Holmes, and him alone.  He was a lunatic, a very sick, twisted man, and he decided that he would go out and shoot up a theater full of people.

I'm so sick of how, every single time something like this happens, the idiots in the media and in Washington start blabbering about how we need more gun control laws, as though every single person out there with a gun is some maniac just waiting for his chance to go on a shooting spree.   Everybody wants to blame everything except for the guy who did the crime.

JudHanson
JudHanson

"The fact is, it wasn't Batman's fault, it wasn't the fault of the guns or other weapons he had, it wasn't the fault of the 2nd Amendment, and it wasn't the fault of the NRA. All blame and fault for this tragedy falls on the shoulders of James Holmes, and him alone. "

 

All true but the fact that Holmes was able to buy 6000 rounds with ease should be of concern to all of us-it does me. The fact is that civilians have no need for assault-type weapons. Tell me, txn, why does the NRA oppose background checks for all gun sales, not just licensed dealers?

The blame should be put on Holmes and the system that allowed him to acquire tear gas and multiple weapons without even blinking.

Mike A. Kuhn
Mike A. Kuhn

 Exactly! In fact there are shootings that happen all over the world, one major one which happened in Sweden, which has some of the most strict gun laws!@James318205:disqus A crazy man bought guns on the black market website, and shot up a bunch of school children, i think close to 70 died in total because he thought they would grow up to be politicians that would make wrong decisions make further down in the future. No matter what the laws are, even if guns didn't exist there would still be killings. Guns are just a crazy man/womans way of doing it the fastest to multiple people in a short period of time. Anyone remember the man who stabbed up multiple people in the New York subway systems quite recently, he used only a knife and stabbed tens of people. Is everyone going to start cracking down on knife laws. Come on people. I agree with you txn3456!

 

Kat Shaw
Kat Shaw

*Norway. He purchased the guns legally. It detracts a little weight from your opinion when your facts are wrong. 

bjornlodd
bjornlodd

The guns were purchased legally, so yeah, more gun control is needed. Doesn't take away from the shooter being to blame, but why make it easier for lunatics like this guy to commit crimes?

txn3456
txn3456

 If some nutcase really wants to get a gun to shoot up a crowd of people, he's going to get the gun one way or another.  Don't take away my right to own a firearm to defend myself just because somebody decided to go on a shooting spree.   More gun control is not needed.

Fatima Menjivar
Fatima Menjivar

 From reading some of these comments, all I can say is wow, Americans

really want to keep their guns. Boggles my mind that in United States,

healthcare is not a basic right

but owning guns is. Absurd.

llittlemeyer
llittlemeyer

I don't blame batman , I blame Rush Limbaugh for going on one of his usual paranoid rants sans facts about how the new Batman movie is a liberal conspiracy !

Somehow Rush's drug addled mind decided that the new batman Villian " Bane " ( yes rush, it is a word that means death, destruction or ruin) was connected to the "Bain" Capitol of Mitt Romney fame.

Now anyone half way rational is going to understand how preposterous this is, however Rush speaks to an audience that has lifted suspension of disbelief to an art form.

I had heard the words movie theater masacre, and I already knew that it was going to be the batman movie , that Rush had taken one more poor deluded soul , and shaped, and honed his anger and pointed it right at that film.

There is no doubt in my mind where the fault lies, it lies dear Brutus within ourselves, and our willingness to tolerate hate radio.

UseCommonSense247
UseCommonSense247

Do you really think that this kid that thought he was the joker was motivated by what Rush said?  If so, you'll believe that antifreeze taste like Hawaiian punch, and will make you stronger... now go drink some.

UseCommonSense247
UseCommonSense247

If you really believe that, I have some magic beans to sell you.  <facepalm></facepalm>

Cahuatijo
Cahuatijo

I'm with blpark84 here, who gives a crap about this useless movie? 12 people just lost their lives at the hands of some unhinged dickhead. But no, Mr. Fergie has to make a point about batman because everyone is blaming batman for this. Who cares about batman?

But I will go ahead and blame batman for this, because I am a diluted dummy who can't see past the influence of media on our youth and also because it HAS to be batman's fault, right?

Show some class and save your lame psychology for some other time.

Cordelia Fisher
Cordelia Fisher

Take the NRA hands out out of the equation and really start cracking down on gun sales wherever they occur.  Congress needs to grow a spine on this area.  How about if this happens to someone in your family.  Empy condolences always occur after these incidents and forgotten in congress during the next empty session regarding gun control laws.  Our legislators need to grow a spine and the NRA needs to stay out of it. 

Kimsbenn
Kimsbenn

"Too take over a country one needs only to disarm its citizens" attributed to Adolf Hitler referring to the sweeping gun registration and confiscation of citizen owned guns enacted by the previous administration. Terminating freedoms rarely results in the desired security. Sixty five million American gun owners did not kill anyone the same day this happened.

monjenl
monjenl

Adolf Hitler obviously wrote that in an era when guns mattered in war. See what your guns do against military drones and the other tools of modern warfare. Useless against armies...and dangerous to innocent citizens.

monjenl
monjenl

Kim...you obviously didn't notice the tanks and tear gas in the middle of those conflicts. And yes, maybe against the armies of Syria, Libya, and Egypt, guns would matter. But our army is the most powerful in the world. In the end what it comes down to is who the military chooses to side with, not guns in the hands of the civilians.

Kimsbenn
Kimsbenn

You may not realize that guns play an important role in the fall of the many governments we have seen throughout the world these past months. Syrian, Libyan, and Egyptian fighters were not requesting drones, they were asking for the most useful "tool" used in all take overs: guns.

James318205
James318205

NRA has nothing to do with this.  They didn't draft the 2nd Amendment.   Empty headed gun-control laws by empty headed lobbyists and their followers have no effect on crime.

Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

In  fact I would think this ought to appear in economy column also as we lost manpower. 

Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

I  agree with you. Why did you not wait for few days and see it on the cable. This are stupid stories and if you get thrashed I think you need the doctor . The reason I say is simple Do we have sound economy that we lose heads? The number of Americans

filing new claims for unemployment benefits rebounded last week, pushing them

back to levels consistent with modest job growth after a seasonal quirk caused

a sharp drop the prior period. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits

increased 34,000 to a seasonally adjusted 386,000, the Labour Department said

on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised up to 352,000 from the

previously reported 350,000.Economists had forecast claims rising to 365,000

last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, a better measure of labour

market trends, fell 1,500 to 375,500.Claims data is volatile in July because of

the timing of the annual auto plant shutdowns for retooling. Automakers will

not embark on wholesale plant shutdowns, throwing off the model that the

department uses to smooth the data for typical seasonal patterns. A Labour

Department official said they were still experiencing volatility related to the

auto layoffs that usually happen at this time of year. Last week's claims data

covers the period for the July payrolls count. The four-week average of new

claims dropped 12,000 between the June and July survey periods, suggesting a

modest improvement in nonfarm payrolls. The labour market has suffered three

months of sub-100,000 job growth as the economy slowed amid a cloud of

uncertainty spawned by fears of sharp contraction in fiscal policy and debt

problems in Europe. I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA One

blpark84
blpark84

Christopher J. Ferguson, this disgusting article is what you choose to publish the day after a terrible tragedy? Your argumentative article confuses me because no one is debating you. OF COURSE no one is blaming Batman for the actions of the insane and pathetic shooter, I don't think that thought crossed any reasonable person's mind, ESPECIALLY the day after the tragedy. What is the real purpose of this article? Damage control?  Heaven forbid this terrible tragedy prevent Batman from breaking every box office record. "Don't worry movie goers, you should still buy tickets to see Batman because Batman didn't cause the shooting. [insert irrelevant study here]" The timing of your article goes beyond tacky, beyond offensive, and you should be ashamed of yourself. How much did you get paid for to write this trash?

monjenl
monjenl

The shooter is rumored to have told police he's "the joker." So people are blaming the movie for putting it in his head that he needed to go and act out that fantasy. It's a lame, weak argument, but that's never stopped anyone before.

Andrew Eisen
Andrew Eisen

Second sentence: "...I’m already fielding questions about whether Batman somehow caused, in whole or in part, this shooter to commit his crimes."

heyguise
heyguise

Jane Valdez Michtel was on HLN just today "asking" if Batman and violent movies where responsible.  

Its ironic since its Batman a super hero one of whos biggest tropes in his modern incarnation is that he doesn't use guns. 

Avalongod
Avalongod

Indeed, the issue had been coming up in the popular press so it was obviously a question some people were having.

Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

I thin he is right I in my right mind would save MY life first , then walks in Obama to say he is sorry. Did he give money to those whose relatives died? Yes? No? His remark was with his wife ... oohhh it is a tragic .. he went to gay party from there did he?