There's going to be a lot of finger-pointing and hand-wringing in the coming days as we begin to process the awful tragedy that unfolded early this morning in Aurora, Colorado. In particular, it seems that right-wingers are eager to point fingers and are being hypersensitive about any suggestion of right-wing politics being even remotely involved in this case.
Of course, one of the foremost facets of events like these is that premature speculation is almost always wrong. It's wisest to let the facts emerge first, at which time we can begin making a rational appraisal of the event and its underlying causes. (We will, of course, be keeping a close eye on just what is in those "items of interest" found in the home of the suspect, James Eagan Holmes, since that will tell us a great deal.)
Unlike a lot of the talking heads out there, though, it seems silly to run and hide from the political dimensions of these kinds of tragedies, especially when it comes some of the broader social ramifications, most notably the role of the mass proliferation of handguns in American society that's occurred in recent years. Just ask folks in Seattle if that conversation isn't already under way here.
As Michael Grunwald says, there are always political dimensions to cases like this, and it's absurd not to deal with them forthrightly -- once, at least, the dust begins to settle and the facts begin to emerge.
Still, there are things that are clear even at the outset. Regardless of any ideological affiliation the Aurora gunman may have had (and I will at least observe that stockpiling armaments and bomb-making materiel is not usually the provenance of liberals, but is very common indeed among NRA-ginned-up gun nuts), one thing we can almost say definitively, given the cold brutality of the rampage, is that it seems highly likely that Holmes is either mentally ill or a psychopath.
Of course, mental illness has been cropping up as a factor in these tragic rampages, most notably in the Tucson rampage of Jared Loughner. Unfortunately, this seems to stop any and all further conversation of the subject, as though insanity is some kind of random X-factor that renders the acts of the insane utterly meaningless. This is, of course, an obscene cop-out.
However, given the skill and care with which Holmes clearly planned out this rampage and its aftermath (particularly in booby-trapping his own apartment), it seems far more likely that what we're dealing with here is a psychopath.
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