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Local law-enforcement officials speak out about Colorado movie theater shooting

July 20, 2012|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • An overhead view of activities at the Century 16 theatre east of the Aurora Mall in Aurora, Colo., on Friday, July 20, 2012. Authorities report that 12 died and more than three dozen people were shot during an assault at the theatre during a midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight."
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

A gun-rights advocate, local law-enforcement officials and a community activist said it would be a knee-jerk reaction to call for stricter gun-control laws following a Friday morning shooting that killed at least 12 people and left more than 50 others wounded in a Colorado movie theater.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said people often blame easy gun access when a fatal shooting occurs such as the one during the screening of a Batman movie shortly after midnight Friday in Aurora, Colo.

“It’s too early to draw conclusions,” said Smith, who has more than 35 years of law-enforcement experience, including a 26-year stint with the Baltimore Police Department. “The important thing is that rather than taking a knee-jerk reaction on gun control, what needs to be looked at is where could someone have intervened?”

Police in Colorado arrested suspected gunman James Holmes, a 24-year-old graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver.

Authorities allege Holmes entered the theater during a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” wearing a gas mask and black SWAT gear. Police said he then threw a canister of gas and started shooting into the crowd.

At least 12 people were killed and more than 50 were wounded as of Friday afternoon, according to Associated Press reports. 

Smith said incidents of this nature often are committed by people with serious mental health issues, such as the gunmen who committed fatal shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and at Columbine (Colo.) High School in 1999.

In those cases, Smith said, the gunmen showed signs that they were disturbed before the shootings occurred. He said that if any new gun control legislation were to be introduced, it should deal with more stringent background checks for mental illness.

Ray Givens, chairman of the Washington County Republican Central Committee and a National Rifle Association member, said he believed “anti-gunners,” or advocates of gun control use tragic shootings such as the one Friday in Colorado to promote their political agendas.

“This is a person who did this — not a gun,” Givens said. “You need to keep an open mind with this and remember it was done by one person. There are millions of legal gun owners.”

Givens said too many facts remained unknown Friday afternoon. He said the gunman could have suffered from a mental illness and obtained the weapons used in the shootings by illegal means.

“You can’t take an incident like this and treat it like it happens every day,” he said.

If law-abiding citizens were legally armed in the theater when the gunmen opened fire, Givens said, they would have had a better chance to defend themselves and possibly stopped the situation before it got worse.

“These predators know that their victims are helpless,” he said.

Andy Smith, president of Brothers United Who Dare to Care, a Hagerstown-based organization that provides outreach to minorities, said he also believed gun control wouldn’t reduce mass murders. Like Givens, Smith said gun-control advocates automatically scream for more gun control when these types of shootings occur.

“If people are going to break the laws, they’re going to do it,” he said. “These are not law-abiding people.”

The strong economy and other contemporary problems have thrown people into despair and caused them to act out, Smith said. But that shouldn’t give them a reason to harm others.

Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said the gunman who committed Friday’s shootings might have had mental health issues.

To be on the safe side, Mullendore said, the sheriff’s office will have deputies in the area of Valley Mall when “The Dark Knight Rises” plays there.

He said the Leitersburg Cinemas off Md. 60 north of Hagerstown has contracted with the sheriff’s office to provide a uniformed deputy during the movie.

“We’ll have other officers around the area,” Mullendore said. “Having visibility deters things like that from happening.”

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