APTOPIX School Shooting Colorado

Attendees illuminate their mobile telephones during a community vigil to honor the victims and survivors of yesterday's fatal shooting at the STEM School Highlands Ranch, late May 8 in Highlands Ranch.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

For today’s column, I had planned to write an open letter to Sen. Cory Gardner (Ed: oh my). 

I had planned to ask him, as the GOP’s most endangered senator, about an issue near and dear to my heart — honor. I had planned on asking him how long he would stand by, robot-like, President Trump in the face of mounting evidence of corruption, stupidity and incompetence. 

Way back when Richard Nixon was in office, the key to the collapse of Republican support for Nixon came when a few GOP members broke with the corrupt president to favor impeachment. That placed the handwriting firmly on the wall, and the rest is, literally, history. I had planned to ask Gardner about his faith in a man who uses a sharpie to re-draw hurricane tracks and who asked a foreign government for a “favor” wherein the foreign nation would interfere in our national election. I had planned to write about all of that, because (I assume) no other columnists in the country are writing on the current national mess (Ed: um… not really true…)

But instead, I’m going to write about the new Joker movie (Ed: what’s that now?)

My brilliant and beautiful wife recently drew my attention to an article appearing in Colorado Politics, about the upcoming new movie about the Joker, and the reaction by some of the good people of Aurora to this new film.

It seems there is a new movie which explores the Joker’s origin story, soon to hit the silver screen. The trailer for this movie suggests a level of violence and danger which some found disquieting. Family members of some of the good people who lost their lives in the Aurora theater shooting have asked the movie’s distributor, Warner Brothers, to fund additional anti-gun violence efforts. They make it clear that they are not calling for censorship of the movie, as they believe in free speech, but they do ask for a simultaneous effort by the company to help reduce gun violence in Colorado and the United States.

Reading the story in CP reminded me of a conversation I had with the late Steve Hogan, back when he was still mayor and I was still working for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. We happened to share a seat on a shuttle bus to a meeting, and I asked Hogan about how his community was doing in the wake of the horror that occurred back in 2012. I specifically asked the mayor about what was to be done with the theater building itself.

Hogan said that what he was hearing from the community was split roughly 50-50. About half the people wanted the theater torn down and remembered through some type of memorial. The other half of the people, Hogan said, wanted the theater to reopen as soon as possible, as a statement that domestic terrorists and murderers never win, and they can’t stop us from living our lives as we see fit. Older readers may recall the 1984 mass shooting in San Diego, which killed 21. After the shooting, the McDonalds corporation bulldozed the restaurant and the location was turned over to the city for a memorial.

This brings us to an interesting and difficult question — how best we should remember those we lost, while also asserting that these killers don’t get to cow us into inaction? I confess this resonated with me personally, as it brought back memories of the horrors I saw at the Pentagon on 9/11. And it demonstrates the challenge of leadership, in that whichever way Hogan responded, a significant group of people would be upset at the path he chose.

I commend Warner Brothers for their statement that they were now supporting and will continue to support the victims of gun violence, and calling on lawmakers to act. And as I’ve written before, we all have a libertarian streak in us, and to me, this is an issue best addressed by more freedom, not less. It would of course be prudent for Aurora theaters (and, I guess, all theaters where the movie will be seen) to put on some extra security, in case an idiot takes it into his or her (but most likely his) mind to do some sort of copy cat action based on the Aurora shooting. But it is also important that the movie be shown widely. We must not let the actions of a few intimidate the rest of us into actions based on fear.

The usual goal of a terrorist, domestic or other, is to force a change in our behaviors. And it is important that they lose on this front. I encourage the good people of Aurora and elsewhere to go see Joker, if that is your type of movie, and I encourage Warner Brother and the rest of the film and entertainment industry to be good neighbors to our great nation, by continuing to fund important gun safety work.

I still recall the turmoil in Hogan’s eyes as he talked with me about the theater shooting. He was a good man, doing what he felt was right, knowing that quite a few folks would be mad at him no matter what path he chose. That, my friends, is leadership, something sorely lacking in D.C. today (see? I brought it back to Cory Gardner!).

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

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