The shooting in Aurora, Colorado has dominated the national news for the past week, but why? Yes, the shooting was a tragedy for those involved, their friends and their families. I do not mean to minimize that. But we are a country of 300,000,000 people, while 12 people died in Aurora. Approximately the same number die ever day in car accidents. Those deaths are just as painful and tragic. Even more people die each day from cancer, heart disease and other causes. So why do we spend so much time focusing on an incident like what occurred in Aurora, while the real dangers to public health are relegated to the bottom of the news?
The simple answer is that the theater shooting was spectacular and unusual. An unusually disturbed man took action in a very unusual and violent way. Such incidents get people's attention, sell newspapers, create hits on websites and get eyeballs on TV screens. That is the obvious reason why the news media pays so much attention to Aurora. It gets people's attention; it is entertainment that sells.
This perverse form of entertainment is not good for us as a society. It scares the daylights out of some people, making them unhappy and causing them to do silly things like not got to the movies for fear of being shot. It makes people believe that we live in an incredibly violent society. Perhaps our society is violent, but the manner in which the media replays a single violent over and over makes it feel far more violent than it really is. And, in the end, it may make society more violent; recent news reports reveal that gun sales are up almost 50% in Colorado since the shooting.
The real lessons of Aurora, such as they are, seem to go unnoticed. The shooting occurred because a highly disturbed individual was able to get his hands on guns and ammunition. The only ways to prevent future incidents is to limit access to guns and ammunition, and to improve our mental health care system. But those lessons seem to have gone by the wayside.