Part Five of this series was supposed to be about getting the most out of informal target shooting, or “plinking,” as most of us call it, but events in a Colorado theater have forced us to consider a far more sober topic instead.
Thirty-eight minutes after midnight on July 20, James Eagan Holmes walked through a theater emergency exit he’d propped open moments before, tossed in a pair of tear gas grenades, and opened fire on the captive audience of roughly 300 people in the Aurora theater. Just one minute to 90 seconds later, the attack was over and the shooter was in police custody outside of the theater. He had offered no resistance to police. Inside, 70 people were shot. Twelve died. It was the highest number of victims in a mass shooting in U.S. history.
We are a nation still trying to come to grips with the senseless violence of this crime. Many blame Holmes and Holmes alone for the crime, while others have chosen to make him just part of the equation. Some point out his odd behavior after his capture as evidence that our mental health system failed. More conspiratorial souls would have him be a cog in a grand conspiracy. And of course, the fact that he used firearms for the most effective part of his rampage (homemade bombs meant to level his apartment building were disarmed) has triggered a temporary escalation in the ever-present debate of the role of firearms in our society.
The inventory of weapons recovered at the scene of this mass murder is a cross-section of what may be the most popular firearms in their classes sold in the United States. The pump-action Remington 870 that Holmes fired to begin his assault is a variant of the most popular shotgun in America and has been used by sportsmen and lawmen for generations. The semi-automatic (one shot per trigger pull) Smith & Wesson M&P15 carbine he used is a variant of the ubiquitous AR-15 platform, arguably the most popular and customizable rifle design sold in America. The two Glock pistols Holmes had with him during the assault — at least one of which was fired repeatedly — are among the most popular pistols in the United States, equally popular with law enforcement and civilians. It would be difficult to find a more representative collection of modern firearms.