DENVER — This was supposed to be a quick and happy trip to Colorado.
Arrive early, take the dog to the vet for a check-up, take the wheels off the beach cruiser and stuff it into the trunk. Pack up the dog and some clothes and drive to California for some doggie beach time and cooler weather.
Now, the city I am leaving behind is in mourning. The shootings in Aurora in a movie theater showing the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, have left a pall over a normally friendly and slightly sports-obsessed city that just now is regrouping after terrible fires. Millions of us are reliving the shootings at Columbine High School, an event that took place more than a decade ago and that many believed could never occur again.
As I look over our house for the last time and get ready to shut down our aging PC for a few weeks, I had some thoughts about this particular act of violence and its consequences.
First, this seems to me to be a post-social media event. James Holmes was bright enough and clever enough to know that if he launched an anti-social tirade on Facebook or in the blogosphere he would be targeted, monitored and his plan would be compromised. So he apparently operated almost completely in stealth mode until he appeared underneath the exit sign at Theater No. 9, armed and tossing tear gas or smoke grenades. This is a truly scary approach — one that terrorists around the world may seek to emulate.
Second, just as the Columbine attacks turned schools into places that were no longer safe, the safety of movie theaters has now come into question. The film industry, one that is vitally important to Southern California and the Central Coast, will take steps to beef up security and it will secure its exit doors with surveillance equipment. But it is ironic that in an era of YouTube watchers and game players, the movies have remained a way of experiencing entertainment in a social setting. The film industry has been fairly effective at protecting its property against pirates and the Internet. Ironic it is that its next challenge is to secure the very theaters that are its lifeblood.
Finally, there is the general question of freedom and how much we have to sacrifice to be safe. We have already surrendered a lot of rights when it comes to travel, to walking around in public places where cameras are omnipresent, to using our phones and computers, which are subject to unknown monitoring by the government. Must we now go through metal detectors to enter a movie theater?
Should James Holmes have been able to accumulate so much ammunition without raising a red flag? Can we be safe anywhere outside the home?
Life will go on, Denver and Aurora will recover and grief — although it will last a very long time — eventually will fade. In an hour or so, I’ll be headed west on I-70, anticipating a Sunday afternoon at the beach.
But each tragedy forces us to confront fundamental questions. The fun drive will instead become a quest for answers.
• Business Times Editor Henry Dubroff splits his time between the Central Coast and Denver, where he maintains a home. Contact him at [email protected]