OPINION: The story of the mass shooting of cinema-goers in Denver two days ago is following a pattern that has become terribly familiar from a dozen or more such incidents over the last five decades.
First, there is the horror of the event itself - in this case the brutal snuffing out of 12 lives and the injuring of dozens in the space of a few minutes. As more emerges about the shooting, the tragic randomness with which death or survival occurred becomes known.
Then there is the story of the perpetrator of the crime - often a loner in whom many had seen warning signs but who few thought capable of such an atrocity - and what might have prompted him. Then, particularly when the event is in the United States, there comes the ultimately ineffectual debate about the nation's commitment, enshrined in the US Constitution, to the individual's right to own firearms.
The weekend's shooting was particularly indiscriminate. Unlike other mass shooters, James Holmes did not target a group from whom he was estranged. The only thing his victims had in common was that they were in the audience at a late-night screening of the latest Batman movie. Among those he hit was a girl aged only nine.
Holmes went on his rampage armed with a rifle and ammunition he had bought legally. In fact, in Colorado he would have been entitled to a permit to carry a handgun. There was nothing in his background as a PhD student in neuroscience to disqualify him.
As it was, he was able to prepare for the carnage he wreaked by amassing a small arsenal of at least three rifles, a pistol and a 100-round magazine for one of the rifles without engaging the attention of any law- enforcement agency.
After similar gun massacres, other countries, such as Australia and Britain, have engaged in heated debates and then tightened their already strict firearms laws.
It is widely acknowledged, however, that the latest US shootings will do nothing to alter what most Americans hold to be a practically inalienable right to own lethal weaponry. After all, the killing of 12 students and a teacher by two gunmen at Columbine High School in 1999 happened just half an hour's drive from the latest event.
It produced much agonised discussion about crime and violence, but no significant change to gun-ownership laws. The outcome has been the same at least since the first such mass shooting at the University of Texas in 1966, when a lone gunman killed 16 and wounded 22, and not even the shooting of presidents and politicians has affected it.
One reason is that possession of firearms is guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court has consistently interpreted this to mean that this is a right conferred on individuals.
The rationale is that it is necessary both to ensure that citizens are ready and armed to resist any outside threat to the nation and also to enable individuals to resist any threat to themselves by an overweening government.
While the right is not absolute, and some restrictions on gun ownership exist, it has long been supported by a large majority of Americans and will not change any time soon.
One result is a gun homicide rate in the US many times greater than that of any other developed country - 40 times higher per head of population than Britain, for instance. That prevalent violence and events like Aurora are a price Americans continue to be willing to pay for the right to bear arms.
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