Bill Dash, long time friend to this blog, has a new take on the "Dark Knight Rises" theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. The words below the asterisks are his.
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Like many out here in the cheap seats, I continue to find the Aurora massacre highly intriguing and at the same time mind-numbingly appalling.
I’ve been mulling over a possible explanation for why Holmes abruptly quit firing, withdrew to his automobile and rather than taking it on the lam, or defiantly going out guns-a-blazing, instead submitted to arrest without any resistance. Indeed, he was so accommodating he even advised the cops that he’d converted his pad into a giant explosive booby-trap. Quite a gracious concession given the considerable amount of time and effort he must have invested in rigging up the place.
I believe I have a plausible theory for why he behaved in this peculiar fashion.
Lately, I’ve begun favoring the idea that Holmes probably was not abetted by an as yet unidentified person(s). In fact, if he did not receive any tutoring, it could provide a simple, comprehensible explanation for why at the end of his rampage he suddenly seemed to wilt and slip into inaction and passivity.
My strong suspicion is that, like most people, Holmes knew little more than nothing about operating firearms when he got the insane inspiration to assemble a small arsenal in preparation for embarking on an orgy of killing. At minimum, for any beginner, receiving at least a little rudimentary training from an experienced person is really necessary. However, based on his performance during the actual massacre, either Holmes was very poorly schooled by some mysterious half-assed aegis in the weeks immediately prior, or else, in his delusional schizoid state, he grandiosely assumed he could somehow sufficiently master the operation of these three weapons all by himself, and consequently never bothered to acquire any coherent rudimentary training at all.
Given the way our culture constantly and often casually glamorizes guns in movies, on TV and in video-games, it’s not surprising that many people unthinkingly regard firearms as though they were a more dangerous form of domestic consumer appliance. But a gun is not the kind of thing where you can “just fake it till you make it” like you could if you had never used a hairdryer before.
With firearms, to operate them effectively, it’s not enough to familiarize yourself with the owner’s manual, though that’s always an excellent idea. The stuff in a manufacturer’s instruction book is only a small part of what you need to know. In the end, being able to competently operate a particular gun, especially a semi-automatic gun (as opposed to a revolver, or bolt-action rifle) has much more to do with building up a special repertoire of kinesthetic memories, so you can act smoothly, instinctively, with little self-conscious effort. I’m not referring to accuracy here, I’m simply talking about being able to correctly work the mechanism confidently i.e.: properly loading a magazine and then inserting it into the gun’s mag-well, charging the weapon, aiming and firing till lock-back (no more ammo), ejecting the empty magazine, inserting a fresh mag, charging the weapon once more, reacquiring your target and then resume firing till lock-back. Sounds simple enough. But operating any type of semi-automatic firearm has its traps and catches -- they’re known as jams.
Apparently Holmes didn’t know how to clear a jam. Anybody who understands a thing about guns will tell you that one of the inherent pitfalls of certain firearm types, especially all semi-automatic firearms, is that they have an unfortunate propensity to jam. Even when operated by a seasoned expert, the chance of a semi-auto jamming always remains a lingering possibility. However, if someone with no firearms training has loaded and is firing a semi-automatic weapon like a Glock pistol or an AR-15 rifle, then the likelihood of a jam becomes an imminent certainty. Believe it or not, just the way you grip a semi-automatic pistol can easily cause it to jam. That’s no exaggeration. Jams due to an improper grip are actually a common beginner’s mistake. The way you load ammo into the magazine can easily lead to a jam. What specific brand and type of ammo you employ can also have a big influence on jamming. Certain guns seem to prefer certain ammo. Exotic high-capacity mags like the 100 round drum-magazine Holmes had are notoriously prone to feed malfunctions, resulting in jams. Not keeping the action adequately oiled is a sure way to invite a jam. Firing a gun to the point where it becomes overheated can easily result in a jam. The list goes on…
There is a whole subset of indispensable training skills, known as “Critical Action Procedures” that have to do with emergency techniques for rapidly clearing the different kinds of jams in semi-autos. All competent shooters are at least somewhat practiced in them. But it’s a bit much to expect that a neophyte, much less a psychotic neophyte, would be able to ferret out all this information by himself and then properly apply it. It really needs to be taught. In any case, it certainly appears as though Holmes never learned these things -- thank God.
Key Question: Was Holmes wearing hearing protection while firing? This could represent an important contributing factor in understanding the course of his behavior. Without good hearing protection, the deafening racket would certainly have been terribly debilitating for a normal person. (Did you know that modern-day soldiers now wear special sound-canceling earmuffs when going into a combat-zone as part of their standard equipment? Besides greatly aiding in effective communications, it reduces fatigue and helps keep the soldier mentally and physically fresh and more alert for longer periods.) If Holmes lacked adequate hearing protection, sustained exposure to the concussive, ear-splitting roar of gunfire at such extremely high decibels, would have without question left him temporarily deaf, with his ears ringing. But even with top-notch hearing protection he still would have experienced a hurricane of intense sensory stimulation, though without tinnitus. It’s hard to imagine how all this chaos could not have failed to have a fogging effect on his or anybody’s higher brain functions.
From what I can gather, it looks to me as though each of his semi-automatic weapons jammed in succession, due to his gross lack of gun handling competence. The AR jammed so he switched to a Glock. People may ask why Holmes didn’t just stick with the 870 pump-action shotgun. It’s not semi-auto and is famous for being extremely dependable. True, but most shotguns including the 870 have to be reloaded one shell at a time and it’s quite difficult and awkward to reload them rapidly unless you have special “speed loaders” and have spent considerable time practicing how to use them without fumbling. So once the 870 was empty he understandably switched to the AR-15, till it quit on him.
My guess it that the possibility of having no functioning weapons was not something his disturbed mind ever considered, much less planned for. After all, any high quality consumer appliance is supposed to work great straight out of the box. So when the last of his guns jammed up on him, he was blindsided by the sudden, startling realization he didn’t have the faintest idea how to deal with the problem. I theorize this awareness probably hit him like a bucket of ice water, instantly robbing him of any feelings of mastery and power he may have been relishing.
Without firepower he was defanged and denuded. Whereupon, I expect, he rapidly became filled with a profound sense of helplessness and fear, and probably strong feelings of being ineffectual. It was like the rug had been pulled out from under him. I further conjecture that this abrupt narcissistic ego-puncturing, coupled with mental fatigue generated by intense sensory overstimulation, was so draining, and so crushing as to cause him to rapidly dissociate and withdraw into a passive fugue state.
This could be the explanation for why he quit firing, even though he apparently still had lots of ammunition, then retreated to his automobile (which was his little piece of home-turf) and rather than attempting to make a getaway, or commit suicide, or violently resist arrest, he simply remained there, semi-stuporous, appearing as a strangely sheepish figure when taken into custody by the police.
Finally, it is well established that adrenaline plays a critical role in the etiology of schizophrenia. God knows Holmes’ mind might have been on vacation, but his adrenaline glands must have been working overtime that night. I can’t help but wonder in what way unusually high blood-levels of adrenaline and possibly other naturally produced corticosteroids and neurochemicals may have played a part in his abrupt swing from being a rampaging executioner to being passively withdrawn and zoned out.