Colorado shooter James Holmes was able to acquire large amounts of ammunition and rapid-fire weaponry despite his erratic behavior. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti, Pool.)
If the mass shooting this summer during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises has receded in the public’s memory given the recent horror in Newtown, Connecticut, court proceedings in Centennial, Colorado, this week have thrust it back into view.
We’ve learned heretofore unknown and certainly unpleasant details from the day of the shooting. Prosecutors played a tape in which a panicked moviegoer calls 911, but the dispatcher can’t hear him over the sound of gunshots—30 of them in 27 seconds. An officer testified that, when there weren’t enough ambulances around, he crammed victims into the back of his patrol car. They were so badly injured that he testified he could hear blood “sloshing around” on the floor of his car when he made turns.
Other details that we heard piecemeal before have been confirmed: about the types of weapons Holmes used and his efforts to obtain them.
Crucially, looking at the evidence presented by prosecutors this week, it’s easy to see several points at which sensible gun control legislation could have stopped the slaughter. Here are the three most obvious ones:
Tracking large-scale ammunition purchases. Steve Beggs, an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, testified that Holmes went on a buying spree starting May 10, 2012. By July 14, he had bought 6,300 rounds of ammunition, two pistols, a .223 caliber Smith & Wesson AR-15 assault weapon, a shotgun, body armor, bomb-making materials and handcuffs.
The large-scale bullet purchases are the big red flag here. Nobody is monitoring bulk ammunition purchases: Some states, like Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey, have limits on the amount you can buy and ask that dealers track their sales for law enforcement, but Colorado has no such rules. And the ones that do exist can easily be evaded by buying ammunition online anyhow, which is what Holmes did.
The federal government should be able to track bulk ammunition sales—there is clearly a controlling public interest when somebody is assembling an arsenal that could support a small militia. If authorities had even briefly question Holmes about why he was stockpiling so many weapons, it’s almost a certainty they would have noticed his extremely bizarre behavior: He was reportedly almost incoherent in the weeks leading up to the attack. The White House is said to be considering a national database to track the sale and movement of weapons, and it should absolutely include ammunition, too.