There's a reason both Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have stayed away from the topic of gun control in the wake of the shootings at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo. Both men realize that more laws would not have stopped the mass killings. Romney put it well, "A lot of what this young man did was clearly against the law. But the fact that it was against the law did not prevent it from happening." They both know the problem is not one of having too few laws on the books. We have plenty of gun laws, and we can't pass a new one every time this happens.
Stricter background checks and easier access to databases of prior criminal histories are good, but those would not have stopped the shooter in this case—until the night of the murders, he was an otherwise law-abiding graduate student. The guns he owned were purchased legally because he passed the checks. Even an assault weapons ban would not have helped, because this guy brought an assortment of guns to the theater. It's hard to predict when law-abiding people might snap, and unfortunately, all the laws in the world aren't going to stop them when they do.
In his recent speech to the Urban League, the president embraced the idea of stricter gun control ("What I said in the wake of Tucson was we were going to stay on this, persistently"), but then he blamed congressional gridlock and the National Rifle Association's lobbying power for why he hasn't proposed anything—much to the chagrin of progressive pundits, politicians like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and now top Hollywood filmmaker Harvey Weinstein. The president managed to anger both the right and the left at the same time.
This week, Weinstein told the Huffington Post that while he believes lack of gun control is the culprit here, he's willing to admit that violence in movies may be affecting some people.
"It's a question that I wrestle with all the time," said Weinstein. "I've been involved with violent movies, and then I've also said at a certain point, 'I can't take it anymore. Please cut it.' You know, you've got to respect the filmmaker, and it's a really tough issue. My heart goes out to those kids and those families."
He added: "I think, as filmmakers, we should sit down—the Marty Scorseses, the Quentin Tarantinos, and hopefully all of us who deal in violence in movies—and discuss our role in that." And he proposed an industry-led summit about the effects of on-screen violence. Amen to that.
I've watched all three of the Batman movies lately, and had to walk out of the room several times because of the violence. But it's not just Batman; there are many films that most of us would agree have unacceptable levels of mayhem for no good reason. There are plenty of TV shows that are just as bloody—God knows how many really grisly murders I watched during The Sopranos. I know what Weinstein means when he says, "I can't take it anymore." Imagine how it must be for people who are mentally unstable. (Readers, no need to comment on my mental state, thank you.)
Certainly, violence in movies is only part of the problem with individuals like the Colorado shooter. But the point is, instead of demanding that government "do something" every time this happens, here's a filmmaker willing to talk to his peers about trying to change the culture in the long run. Harvey Weinstein is no Republican, and Hollywood will listen to him. In fact, if he succeeds in bringing his industry together, he'll have a lot more influence over what's going on in America than any number of new gun laws. Conservatives—social conservatives especially—should be rooting for him.